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social sciences

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Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)  
 
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Judge Tauro, relying heavily on such Supreme Court rulings as Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas, ruled that this Section violated the Fifth Amendment's equal protection principles and the Tenth Amendment's reservation of unenumerated powers to the states.

In his opinion in the Commonwealth case, Judge Tauro pointed out that the federal government had never before not accepted a state's definition of marriage. He concluded, "This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status. The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid."

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In the Gill case, Judge Tauro found that DOMA was enacted with discriminatory intent. He concluded that even under a deferential "rational standard" review the act could not pass constitutional muster. There is, the judge wrote, "no fairly conceivable set of facts that could ground a rational relationship between DOMA" and a legitimate government interest.

He declared, "where, as here, 'there is no reason to believe that the disadvantaged class is different, in relevant respects' from a similarly situated class, this court may conclude that it is only irrational prejudice that motivates the challenged classification. As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

In the two opinions, Judge Tauro addressed every argument in favor of DOMA advanced by Congress in 1996 and by the Department of Justice in 2009 and found them all implausible and irrational.

Judge Tauro issued a stay of his rulings pending an appeal by the government to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Marriage equality advocate Evan Wolfson hailed the decisions by Judge Tauro in a press release the day the ruling was announced: "Today's ruling affirms what we have long known: federal discrimination enacted under DOMA is unconstitutional. The decision will be appealed and litigation will continue. But what we witnessed in the courtroom cannot be erased: federal marriage discrimination harms committed same-sex couples and their families for no good reason."

Other Cases

On November 9, 2010, GLAD filed another lawsuit challenging section 3 of DOMA, Pederson v. Office of Personnel Management. The plaintiffs are five couples and a widower from Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire, who, solely because of DOMA Section 3, have been denied legal protections for which they are currently eligible and for which they have applied.

As it did in the Gill case, GLAD argued that DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Also on November 9, 2010, the ACLU LGBT Project filed a lawsuit, Windsor v. United States, on behalf of Edith Windsor that sought to declare DOMA unconstitutional on equal protection grounds. Windsor and her late spouse Thea Spyer lived together for 44 years. They were married in Canada in 2007. Because the federal government refused to recognize their marriage, Windsor was forced to pay more than $350,000 in federal estate taxes when Spyer died in 2009. Had their marriage been recognized, Spyer's estate would have passed to Windsor without any tax.

Another suit challenging DOMA in federal court was Dragovich v. U. S. Department of the Treasury, which involves California state employees who were barred because of DOMA from enrolling their same-sex spouses in the state's long-term care program, which is regulated by federal tax law. In a ruling released on January 18, 2011, federal district Judge Claudia Wilken permitted their suit to proceed over objections from the Justice Department and in doing so expressed strong doubts about the constitutionality of DOMA.

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