A federal appeals court Thursday declared that the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally denies federal benefits to married gay couples. This is a groundbreaking ruling, but it is certain to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The panel of judges of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, in its unanimous decision, has said the law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, deprives gay couples of the rights and privileges granted to heterosexual couples.
This is the first federal appeals panel to agree with a lower court judge who ruled in 2010 that the law interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns.
Plaintiff Jonathan Knight, 32, who married Marlin Nabors in 2006, said that for him, it’s more just about having equality and not having a system of first-and-second-class marriages and that he thought we can do better, as a country, than that. Knight said DOMA costs the couple an extra $1,000 a year because they cannot file a joint federal tax return.
Those opposed to gay marriage, blasted the decision.
President of the Massachusetts Family Institute, Kris Mineau had said that he finds the ruling that a state can mandate to the federal government the definition of marriage for the sake of receiving federal benefits bizarre and rather arrogant.
Jay Carney, White House spokesman, said the appeals court ruling is “in concert with the president’s view.” Obama, who once opposed gay marriage, declared his support on May 9. Carney wouldn’t say whether he thought the government would seek to have DOMA overturned if the case goes before the Supreme Court. He also commented that he couldn’t predict what the next steps will be in handling the case.
This ruling wouldn’t be enforced until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the case, which means that same-sex married couples will not be eligible to receive the economic benefits denied by DOMA until the high court rules. This is because the ruling only applies to the states within the circuit, which happen to be Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico. Only the Supreme Court has the final say in deciding whether a law passed by Congress is unconstitutional.