DOJ reviews Mass. rulings on fed gay marriage ban

BOSTON (AP) — A judge’s rulings in Massachusetts that the federal law banning gay marriage is unconstitutional could have implications far beyond the state if they’re upheld by a higher court after an appeal by the Obama administration, legal experts say.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro said the law, the Defense of Marriage Act, interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and therefore denies married gay couples some federal benefits. He ruled Thursday in favor of gay couples’ rights in two separate challenges to DOMA, which the administration of President Barack Obama has argued for repealing.

The rulings apply to Massachusetts, but if a higher court with a broader jurisdiction were to hear an appeal and agree with the judge’s rulings, their impact would spread, said Boston College professor Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law expert. The rulings might encourage other attorneys general who oppose DOMA to sue to try to knock it down, he said.

“One thing that’s going to be really interesting to watch is whether the Obama administration appeals or not,” he said.

An appeal would be considered by the First Circuit, which also includes Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire.

The Department of Justice didn’t immediately say whether it would appeal; it was reviewing the judge’s decisions, spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said.

Massachusetts had argued the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in the state, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004.

The judge agreed and said the law forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens to be eligible for federal funding in federal-state partnerships.

The act “plainly encroaches” upon the right of the state to determine marriage, the judge said in his ruling on a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Martha Coakley. In a ruling in a separate case filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, the judge said the act violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves,” he wrote. “And such a classification the Constitution clearly will not permit.”

One of the plaintiffs in the GLAD lawsuit, Nancy Gill, said she was “thrilled” with the rulings.

“I’m so happy I can’t even put it into words,” she said.

Gill and Marcelle Letourneau married in Massachusetts in 2004 after being together for more than 20 years.

When Gill, a U.S. postal worker, tried to add Letourneau to her family health plan, she was denied. The couple were forced to get separate insurance for Letourneau, who has a medical transcription business at home and does administrative work for the local Visiting Nurse Association.

Letourneau called the rulings “life-changing.”

“I can get on Nancy’s insurance,” she said. “That’s just a huge victory, and it gives us peace of mind.”

Coakley called it a “landmark decision” and “an important step toward achieving equality for all married couples in Massachusetts.”

The Department of Justice had argued the federal government had the right to set eligibility requirements for federal benefits — including requiring that those benefits go only to couples in marriages between a man and a woman.

Opponents of gay marriage said they were certain the rulings would be overturned on appeal.

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, called the judge’s rulings “judicial activism” and said he was a “rogue judge.” Gay marriage advocates will keep pushing their agenda in the courts, she said, but noted voters consistently have rejected gay marriage at the ballot box, including in a recent California vote.

“We can’t allow the lowest common denominator states, like Massachusetts, to set standards for the country,” Lafferty said.

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the rulings result in part from “the deliberately weak legal defense of DOMA” that the Obama administration mounted on behalf of the government.

“While the American people have made it unmistakably clear that they want to preserve marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, liberals and activist judges are not content to let the people decide,” McClusky said in a statement.

The law was enacted by Congress in 1996, when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. The lawsuit challenges only the portion of the law that prevents the federal government from affording pension and other benefits to same-sex couples.

Since then, five states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.


Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay in Boston and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.

  • didacticrogue

    I’ve asked it before, and I’m sure I’ll ask it again, but:

    Why does the government need to be in the marriage business in the first place? What business is it of the government’s who lives (or sleeps, or procreates) with whom?

    … and “because the tax code is written that way” is not a valid answer.

    • des1

      The reason is because it is in the Government’s best interest to encourage people to stay together and raise children in a stable household. Giving tax breaks or perks to people who are doing so (which is more expensive and restrictive than just running around doing your thing for your own self-interest) helps to promote stability, which continues our way of life.

      Besides, unless you want your neighbor banging a goat or buying the 10 year-old down the street from his broke (and morally bankrupt) parents and “marrying” her, the government has to determine what is acceptable and what is not.

      • didacticrogue

        So, it is all about social engineering.

        OK, so some people (you and me among them, apparently) think it’s generally better for society if people practice monogamy, stay together as a family unit, and raise their progeny in a heterosexual environment. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, and I highly recommend it. But I don’t really want to use the force of government to impose my morality and lifestyle on others, lest somebody else might someday want to compel me to embrace theirs. Besides, if we’re really going to force morality on others through legislation, why don’t we go all in and outlaw homosexual behavior, pre- and extra-marital sex, and divorce? Perhaps even heterosexual procreative acts should be statutorily limited to no more than five minutes’ duration – and only in the missionary position, of course. I mean, it worked for the Puritans, right?

        I realize I’m more of a libertarian than most here, but as to my neighbor “banging his goat” (or “spanking his monkey?”), I’m pretty much in the “what a person does in the privacy of their own barn” camp. Just keep it out of earshot, please. The folks at PETA might take a different view, of course.

        On the other hand, society demands that children be protected, and they cannot be bought or sold (or abused) – in our country, anyway – for any reason, and this is as it should be.

        As to your last statement, I don’t believe that it’s ever appropriate for “the government” to determine what is acceptable and what is not. In my mind, that is the purview of society, which can then use government to encourage and enforce its conventions on those who would otherwise live outside them.