Since May 17, 2004, over 15,000 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples in Massachusetts.
Nancy Gill and Marcelle LeTourneau, along with six other same-sex married couples in Massachusetts, filed suit in 2009, claiming that DOMA denied them certain federal marriage-based benefits that are available to similarly-situated heterosexual couples in violation of the equal protection principles embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Massachusetts has a variety of benefits it grants to its citizens -- among other things, there's a state-administered health insurance program (MassHealth). There are also a pair of veteran's cemeteries in Agawam and Wichendon which are available for qualified veterans -- but Massachusetts was told by the federal government that if the benefits of these programs were extended to same-sex spouses, millions of dollars in otherwise-available federal aid would stop.
So the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, through Attorney General Martha Coakley, also filed suit in 2009 against the United States Department of Human Services and other federal officials seeking to hold unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that DOMA intruded on areas of exclusive state authority, as well as the Spending Clause, by forcing the Commonwealth to engage in discrimination against its own citizens in order to receive and retain federal funds in connection with these programs.
In a pair of opinions issued this afternoon (Gill, Commonwealth), The Hon. Joseph L. Tauro agreed with Gill and the Commonwealth and held Section 3 of DOMA -- the part forbidding federal benefits to same-sex couples -- to be unconstitutional.
DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster even under the highly deferential rational basis test. As set forth in detail below, this court is convinced that "there exists no fairly conceivable set of facts that could ground a rational relationship" between DOMA and a legitimate government objective. DOMA, therefore, violates core constitutional principles of equal protection.
And why is DOMA lacking in rational basis? Judge Tauro -- who, by the way, has served on the federal bench since his nomination by President Nixon in 1972 -- cuts down the reasons:
This court can readily dispose of the notion that denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages might encourage responsible procreation, because the government concedes that this objective bears no rational relationship to the operation of DOMA. Since the enactment of DOMA, a consensus has developed among the medical, psychological, and social welfare communities that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are just as likely to be well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual parents. But even if Congress believed at the time of DOMA’s passage that children had the best chance at success if raised jointly by their biological mothers and fathers, a desire to encourage heterosexual couples to procreate and rear their own children more responsibly would not provide a rational basis for denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages. Such denial does nothing to promote stability in heterosexual parenting. Rather, it "prevent[s] children of same-sex couples from enjoying the immeasurable advantages that flow from the assurance of a stable family structure," when afforded equal recognition under federal law.
Moreover, an interest in encouraging responsible procreation plainly cannot provide a rational basis upon which to exclude same-sex marriages from federal recognition because, as Justice Scalia pointed out in his dissent to Lawrence v. Texas, the ability to procreate is not now, nor has it ever been, a precondition to marriage in any state in the country.
And, relying on the Moreno/City of Cleburne/Romer cases of which I'm a big fan:
[T]his court notes that DOMA cannot possibly encourage Plaintiffs to marry members of the opposite sex because Plaintiffs are already married to members of the same sex. But more generally, this court cannot discern a means by which the federal government’s denial of benefits to same-sex spouses might encourage homosexual people to marry members of the opposite sex. And denying marriage-based benefits to same-sex spouses certainly bears no reasonable relation to any interest the government might have in making heterosexual marriages more secure.
What remains, therefore, is the possibility that Congress sought to deny recognition to same-sex marriages in order to make heterosexual marriage appear more valuable or desirable. But to the extent that this was the goal, Congress has achieved it "only by punishing same-sex couples who exercise their rights under state law." And this the Constitution does not permit.
"For if the constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it must at the very least mean" that the Constitution will not abide such "a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group."
And finally, Congress attempted to justify DOMA by asserting its interest in the preservation of scarce government resources. While this court recognizes that conserving the public fisc can be a legitimate government interest, "a concern for the preservation of resources standing alone can hardly justify the classification used in allocating those resources." This court can discern no principled reason to cut government expenditures at the particular expense of Plaintiffs, apart from Congress’ desire to express its disapprobation of same-sex marriage.
Yes, but what about the wacky new reasons which the Obama DOJ offered to support DOMA?
In essence, the government argues that the Constitution permitted Congress to enact DOMA as a means to preserve the "status quo," pending the resolution of a socially contentious debate taking place in the states over whether to sanction same-sex marriage. Had Congress not done so, the argument continues, the definitions of "marriage" and "spouse" under federal law would have changed along with each alteration in the status of same-sex marriage in any given state because, prior to DOMA, federal law simply incorporated each state’s marital status determinations. And, therefore, Congress could reasonably have concluded that DOMA was necessary to ensure consistency in the distribution of federal marriage-based benefits.
In addition, the government asserts that DOMA exhibits the type of incremental response to a new social problem which Congress may constitutionally employ in the face of a changing socio-political landscape.
[T]his assertion merely begs the more pertinent question: whether the federal government had any proper role to play in formulating such policy in the first instance.
There can be no dispute that the subject of domestic relations is the exclusive province of the states. And the powers to establish eligibility requirements for marriage, as well as to issue determinations of martial status, lie at the very core of such domestic relations law. The government therefore concedes, as it must, that Congress does not have the authority to place restrictions on the states’ power to issue marriage licenses. And indeed, as the government aptly points out, DOMA refrains from directly doing so. Nonetheless, the government’s argument assumes that Congress has some interest in a uniform definition of marriage for purposes of determining federal rights, benefits, and privileges. There is no such interest.
By way of one pointed example, so-called miscegenation statutes began to fall, state by state, beginning in 1948. But no fewer than sixteen states maintained such laws as of 1967 when the Supreme Court finally declared that prohibitions on interracial marriage violated the core constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Nevertheless, throughout the evolution of the stateside debate over interracial marriage, the federal government saw fit to rely on state marital status determinations when they were relevant to federal law.
And even within the narrower class of heterosexual married couples, this court cannot apprehend any rational relationship between DOMA and the goal of nationwide consistency. As noted above, eligibility requirements for heterosexual marriage vary by state, but the federal government nonetheless recognizes any heterosexual marriage, which a couple has validly entered pursuant to the laws of the state that issued the license. For example, a thirteen year-old female and a fourteen year-old male, who have the consent of their parents, can obtain a valid marriage license in the state of New Hampshire. Though this court knows of no other state in the country that would sanction such a marriage, the federal government recognizes it as valid simply
because New Hampshire has declared it to be so.
And, so, in conclusion:
In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue. By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court that the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. To further divide the class of married individuals into those with spouses of the same sex and those with spouses of the opposite sex is to create a distinction without meaning. And 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.
I pray that the Attorney General recognizes that DOMA is indefensible, and declines to appeal.
See also mille147's diary, which got to it first.