Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Victory For State's Rights

A federal judge in Boston, MA, ruled that parts of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The parts referenced are these two.

Title 1, Chapter 1, Section 7.

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

Title 28, Part V, Chapter 115, Section 1738C

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

"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."

Judge Tauro lists the reasons Congress had for creating this law and addresses them even though the government disavowed those reasons and defended DOMA for different ones.

The House Report identifies four interests which Congress sought to advance through the enactment of DOMA:
(1) encouraging responsible procreation and child-bearing,
(2) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage,
(3) defending traditional notions of morality, and
(4) preserving scarce resources.
For purposes of this litigation, the government has disavowed Congress’s stated justifications for the statute and, therefore, they are addressed below only briefly.

After ripping those reasons apart he addresses the government's argument.

Because the rationales asserted by Congress in support of the enactment of DOMA are either improper or without relation to DOMA’s operation, this court next turns to the potential justifications for DOMA that the government now proffers for the purposes of this litigation.

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.


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. “The scope of a federal right is, of course, a federal question, but that does not mean that its content is not to be determined by state, rather than federal law. This is especially true where a statute deals with a familiar relationship [because] there is no federal law of domestic relations.”

This conclusion is further bolstered by an examination of the federal government’s historical treatment of state marital status determinations. Marital eligibility for heterosexual couples has varied from state to state throughout the course of history. Indeed, pursuant to the sovereign power over family law granted to the states by virtue of the federalist system, as well as the states’ well-established right to “experiment[] and exercis[e] their own judgment in an area to which States lay claim by right of history and expertise,” individual states have changed their marital eligibility requirements in myriad ways over time. And yet the federal government has fully embraced these variations and inconsistencies in state marriage laws by recognizing as valid for federal purposes any heterosexual marriage which has been declared valid pursuant to state law.

Odd. I don't hear cheering from the state's rights crowd.

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