On Thursday, May 31 a Massachusetts federal appeals court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional in its denial of federal benefits to gay couples who have married. The ruling is viewed as a significant and welcome victory for those who support the legitimacy and legality of gay marriage. The decision focused on the rights of legally married gay couples to receive federal benefits.
Massachusetts has long been a trailblazer in the push to legalize and support gay marriage within the United States. Last week’s ruling continues that tradition by agreeing with a lower court’s 2010 decision which stated that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the constitutional right of states to define and regulate marriage within their own boundaries. Furthermore, such laws unfairly deny same-sex couples who marry the same federal benefits that heterosexual couples regularly enjoy.
This ruling focuses solely on the benefits section of the law. No deliberation was held on the more controversial aspects of the law, including the provision that states that do not allow same-sex marriage cannot be forced to acknowledge or honor gay marriages performed in states that do allow the practice. Nor did the panel of appeals judges consider the question of whether same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
Proponents of gay marriage cite the ruling as an important victory; one that will allow gay couples the right to federal benefits such as health care, survivorship benefits and the ability to file joint federal tax returns. Furthermore, the ruling helps to legitimize the practice of gay marriage, and the rights of those citizens who choose to marry in the state of Massachusetts.
Although the ruling will not be enforced until the Supreme Court hears and rules on the case, many believe that this ruling will lead the way in the fight for equal rights for gay couples across the nation. According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, the ruling is supported by President Obama, who gave an impassioned statement on May 9 giving his personal support to the movement.
Source: Detroit Free Press, “U.S. marriage law unconstitutionally denies benefits to gay couples, appeals panel rules,” Denise Lavoie, June 1, 2012