In a decision that seems certain to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that a key provision of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.
In a 3-to-0 decision, the appeals court struck down a portion of the Act that prevents individuals in same-sex marriages recognized by States from receiving Federal benefits conferred on married couples, such as being able to receive spousal Social Security benefits and file taxes jointly. The circuit court held that such a prohibition violated principles of Federalism and unlawfully targeted minority interests (those of homosexuals). Marriage, the court ruled, is a subject that should be defined by the States, and not the Federal government.
The court declined to rule on whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, as well as whether States that do not allow same-sex marriages must recognize couples from States that do. In addition, the decision of the First Circuit — which would have only applied to the New England States of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts — has been put on hold pending an appeal to the full circuit court or the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management is one of two gay-marriage related cases that have been decided by Federal circuit courts and seem like to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. The other is a challenge to Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriages. On February 7, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the California law as violating the Fourteenth Amendment.
Supreme Court Debates will provide extensive coverage of these cases if and when they go before the High Court. A decision on certiorari is likely sometime this fall.