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Federal court rules DOMA unconstitutional

A federals appeals court in New York ruled Thursday that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.
New York City Gay Pride March on June 24, 2012 (Photo: Getty Images/Michael Nagle)
New York City Gay Pride March on June 24, 2012

A federals appeals court in New York ruled Thursday that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The 2-1 opinion of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Edith Windsor's case makes this the second appeals court to hold the law unconstitutional, declaring that Section 3 of DOMA "violates equal protection."

Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, who authored the opinion, is known as a "very conservative judge," according to ThinkProgress.  Chief Judge Jacobs’ opinion concludes that any law which discriminates against gay men and lesbians should be treated very skeptically under our Constitution.

More on the ruling:

"Our straightforward legal analysis sidesteps the fair point that same-sex marriage is unknown to history and tradition. But law (federal or state) is not concerned with holy matrimony. Government deals with marriage as a civil status--however fundamental--and New York has elected to extend that status to same-sex couples. A state may enforce and dissolve a couple's marriage, but it cannot sanctify or bless it."

The court also defended its decision by listing the factors used to come to its conclusion:

[W]e conclude that review of Section 3 of DOMA requires heightened scrutiny.The Supreme Court uses certain factors to decide whether a new classification qualifies as a quasi-suspect class. They include: A) whether the class has been historically “subjected to discrimination,”; B) whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society,” C) whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group;” and D) whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.” Immutability and lack of political power are not strictly necessary factors to identify a suspect class. Nevertheless, immutability and political power are indicative, and we consider them here. In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.

This ruling has been the subject of review since 2010, when a New York law firm sued on behalf of a woman whose same-sex spouse had died the previous year, and whose inheritance had been subject to federal taxation because the two were considered unmarried by the federal government, despite being married in the state of New York.

A lower court judge ruled DOMA unconstitutional in the Windsor case in June 2012. The Justice Department and the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which is controlled by House Republican leadership, filed an appeal to defend DOMA.

Thursday's ruling is considered a victory for LGBT rights advocates. In a statement on their website, the ACLU celebrated the ruling, saying, "In striking down DOMA, the court held that government discrimination against lesbians and gay men now is assumed to be unconstitutional and that DOMA's defenders could not offer any good reason for treating married same-sex couples differently from all other married people."

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA within its current term, according to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.