In a landmark ruling, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston struck down key pieces of the Defense of Marriage Act, the law prohibiting the federal government from extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples. The court ruled in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management that the government has no rational reason for discriminating against gay couples. The court said “moral disapproval” should not be the basis of law.
The law was passed in 1996 when it appeared that Hawaii may legalize same-sex marriage. Since then, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage and eight have approved it, starting with Massachusetts in 2004. The appeals court upheld a ruling by a lower court judge who said in 2010 that DOMA is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and it denies married gay couples from taking advantage of federal benefits offered to heterosexuals.
The attorney defending DOMA said Congress had a rational basis for passing it because marriage-equality opponents worried that states would be forced to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. The lawyers said Congress had the ability to preserve a definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The court, however, agreed with marriage equality proponents when a lawyer for gay married couples said the law amounts to “across-the-board disrespect.”
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have also declared the law — which denies gay couples about 1,100 benefits afforded automatically to heterosexual couples — unconstitutional, and are refusing to defend it in court.