Big Step Forward for Marriage Equality: Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Ruled Unconstitutional
Despite some disappointments (<cough> Chris Christie <cough>), overall it's been a pretty good month for LGBTQ rights: Washington state legalized same-sex marriage, a federal court ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional, and JC Penney stood up for Ellen Degeneres after anti-gay attacks against the company's new spokesperson. Now we have a new win to add to the roster, and it's a biggie: the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that denies same-sex married couples federal benefits, has been ruled unconstitutional for the second time. That means that DOMA may soon be headed for the Supreme Court.
DOMA is based on unfounded assumptions about marriage and the suitability of gays and lesbians as parents and was enacted in 1996 by a Congress avid to show its disapproval of homosexuality, said U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco.
He quoted numerous statements by backers of the act during congressional debate over it, including one by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., that "the moral and spiritual survival of this nation" were at stake. Another supporter, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga. - who has since turned against DOMA - said in 1996 that marriage was "under assault by homosexual extremists."
The law "treats gay men and lesbians differently on the basis of their sexual orientation" without any legal basis, said White, an appointee of former President George W. Bush. "The imposition of subjective moral beliefs of a majority on a minority cannot provide a justification."
His ruling is the second in the nation to declare the law unconstitutional, and the first since President Obama abandoned defense of DOMA a year ago. It adds momentum to an issue that could bring the question of same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Clearly there is still a long way to go before we achieve marriage equality for all same-sex couples in this country. But this is a huge step, and one we should celebrate.