A unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held today that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal economic and other benefits for married people from same-sex couples married in states where it is legal, could not be justified. The opinion did not address the issue of whether other states may be forced to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal. And the judges said the case did not call upon them to address whether there is a constitutional right to marriage that must be available to gay couples.
You may recall that the case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, was brought by seven same-sex couples married in Massachusetts and three surviving spouses of such marriages who were denied federal benefits and recognition.
The court opinion stated:
One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage,” Boudin wrote. “Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.
An interesting side note is that the 3-judge panel is made up of 1 judge appointed by President Clinton and TWO appointed by Republican presidents (Bush and Reagan). Further, the opinion was written by Judge Boudin who was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush.
It is important to note that while the court held that DOMA is unconstitutional, the panel also stayed the mandate until such time as the Supreme Court could rule on the issue. With several cases now working their way through the federal court system, it may only be a matter of time before the Supreme Court is forced the take a position on the issue.