May 31, 2012 (Boston) – Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.
Passed by Congress in 1996, DOMA declared that a marriage is between a man and a woman, nullifying marriages of gay and lesbian couples for purposes of federal law.
Judge Michael Boudin, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, authored the unanimous decision. He was joined by Judge Sandra Lynch,an appointee of President Bill Clinton, and Chief Judge Juan Torruella, a Ronald Reagan appointee.
The decision was hailed by supporters of same-sex marriage and denounced by opponents.
“Today’s momentous decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals is yet another example of the clear pattern of consistent recognition among federal courts that marriage inequality—by any level of government—violates our nation’s core constitutional principles,” said AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer in a prepared statement. “Whether it is California’s Proposition 8 or the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, court after court has affirmed that marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans is unfair, unjust, and unconstitutional.”
"Society should protect and strengthen marriage, not undermine it. The federal Defense of Marriage Act provides that type of protection, and we trust the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse the 1st Circuit's erroneous decision," said a statement from Alliance Defense Fund Legal Counsel Dale Schowengerdt.
The court did not rule specifically on whether gay marriage is a Constitutional right, but did affirm the right of states to enact gay marriage laws. The court did not rule on one aspect of DOMA, a provision which allowed states without same-sex marriage laws to refuse to recognize gay unions performed in states where the practice is legal.
SCOTUSBlog (Supreme Court of the United States) writer Lyle Denniston analyzes the ruling here. He says "the Circuit Court took a cautious approach that it said was based on recent Supreme Court precedents outlawing discrimination against minorities. ... If the new ruling withstands a likely appeal, it would actually affect only gay couples in the six states and the District of Columbia that now allow such marriages, but it could serve as a constitutional precedent for challenging other limits or bans on gay marriage in any state."
READ THE FIRST CIRCUIT’S DECISION HERE: www.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/10-2204P-01A.pdf