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Federal Court: As Massachusetts Goes, So Must ALL States

Posted on July 14 2010 9:00 pm

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A federal district court judge in Massachusetts has ruled in two separate opinions that the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (“DOMA”) signed by President Bill Clinton, which defines “marriage” as between a man and a woman only, is unconstitutional. Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, and Massachusetts v. HHS.

On the “O’Reilly Factor” last night,  one of O’Reilly’s legal experts – Lis Wiehl – defended the judge’s constitutional interpretations, arguing that there is no basis in the Constitution for the federal government to intrude in an area traditionally reserved to the states.

With all due respect to the judge and Ms. Wiehl, I think they misconstrue both the reach of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and how the Constitution should be interpreted in relation to what this law is trying to achieve, although the issue may become moot if  President Obama has his way in repealing DOMA altogether.

In the Gill case, Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled that  the federal Defense of Marriage statute violates the constitutional right of married same-sex couples to equal protection under the law.  He ruled that the federal law unfairly discriminated against Massachusetts citizens of the same sex who married lawfully under Massachusetts law but were denied access to federal benefits because DOMA mandated that the federal government recognize only those marriages between one man and one woman in determining eligibility for federal benefits. In order to reach this result, Judge Tauro concluded that there was no conceivable set of facts to support a finding that there was a rational relationship between DOMA and a legitimate government objective.  Therefore, said the judge:

[DOMA] violates core constitutional principles of equal protection

In so ruling, Judge Tauro dismissed a compelling federal government objective served by the Defense of Marriage Act: to conserve scarce federal resources by defining eligibility for federal benefits based on marital status according to long accepted notions of what marriage has meant under English and American common law based on Judeo-Christian precepts.

Indeed, under the logic of Judge Tauro’s equal protection decision, Utah could pass a law allowing bigamy, forcing the citizens of all other states to subsidize families with multiple spouses through their federal tax dollars while they are only permitted one spouse in their own states – a form of discrimination in reverse.

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