Defense of Marriage Act Ruled Unconstitutional

The Defense of Marriage Act, enacted by former President William Clinton, has been ruled unconstitutional as applied to the circumstances involving a lesbian couple who attempted to enroll in health insurance programs offered by the United States Office of Personnel Management. Details of the ruling were first mentioned in the Los Angeles Times but, were later reported locally in the Orlando Sentinel. The Orlando Sentinel story can be found here, in its entirety.

US District Court of Appeals, for the Ninth Circuit, Judge Jeffrey S. White entered the 43-page order finding that, as applied to the wife of Ms. Karen Golinski, an attorney for the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. The complete ruling by Judge White can be found here. Commentators note that this is the first ruling since the administration of current President Barack Obama announced a year ago that it would no longer defend a law that it considered discriminatory and reflective of a long history of denying equal rights to gay and lesbian couples. Interestingly, because of the decision to not defend the law by the Obama administration and the United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, Jr., a conservative-dominated group known as Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group decided to pursue the case. In a previous hearing in December, attorneys for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group had argued that the Defense of Marriage Act was enacted to protect and nurture traditional opposite-sex marriage and they submitted evidence of “some fluidity” in the commitment of homosexuals to that identity, of being homosexual, and that the prior ruling of the 9th Judicial Circuits rulings that homosexuality was “a defining and immutable characteristic.”

In his ruling, Judge White stated that “tradition alone” does not justify legislation that targets a specific group unfairly. Gay rights advocates applauded rights ruling and this sentiment was backed-up by a comment from Ms. Tara Borelli, a staff attorney for the national gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal, who stated, “This ruling, the first to come after the Justice Department announced it would no longer defense this discriminatory statute in court, spells doom for DOMA.” Commentary from attorneys who defended the act did not respond to requests for commentary but most experts think that an appeal is likely to come.

Clearly, the Defense of Marriage Act is under scrutiny from those challenging the validity of the act and those who believe in the acts validity are strongly defending their beliefs. The jury is still out as to DOMA’s continuing validity but the story is one that we will surely continue to follow closely.