It is with great pleasure that I take up my pen–or rather, my laptop–to record a momentous event. Earlier today, a U.S. appeals court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.
For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a Federal act that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. This means, that even if individual states allow marriage equality (which some do), those marriages cannot be recognized on a federal level. Thus, legally, the federal government can, and does, deny these couples benefits such as tax breaks, health care, and pensions because they are not recognized as being married on the federal level. As such, in order to ever achieve marriage equality, the Defense of Marriage Act must be repealed.
Many people have been trying to bring this about for a long time, but today was a very definite victory. The First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals officially declared DOMA unconstitutional, echoing thoughts expressed by the President in its decision.
“If we are right in thinking that disparate impact on minority interests and federalism concerns both require somewhat more in this case than almost automatic deference to Congress’ will, this statute fails that test,” said the three judge panel.
The panel didn’t comment on the second part of the federal act, which states that no state can be forced to recognize a same-sex union that was formed in another state (i.e. one that actually allows same-sex marriage). This means that a couple that gets married in a state that does allow same-sex marriage, cannot move out of the state for any reason, without ceasing to be considered married (unless they move to another state that does allow same-sex marriages). It can be hugely limiting in terms of jobs, ability to live near family, and many other issues with heterosexual couples take for granted, since their marriages are considered valid throughout the country.
However, as I said before, the court’s decision is a tremendous stride forward. At this point, their decision is expected eventually to reach the Supreme Court, but this was the first major blow to a law which has been notoriously difficult to fight.
So onwards and upwards! The fight for marriage equality gained another significant victory today, and it is to be hoped there are many more to follow.