May 31 2012
This morning, the First Circuit Court of Appeals released its decision in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, ruling that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.
The Court concluded, “Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”
Section 3 defines “marriage” under federal law as “only a legal union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife” and “spouse” as a person of the opposite sex. Section 3 thus denies married same-sex couples numerous rights and benefits under federal law.
The decision today did not address DOMA’s section 2, which authorizes states to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages from Massachusetts and other states that permit them.
The First Circuit’s decision addressed the proper level of scrutiny to apply in reviewing the federal statute, and summarized its analysis:
Although our decision discusses equal protection and federalism concerns separately, it concludes that governing precedents under both heads combine–not to create some new category of “heightened scrutiny” for DOMA under a prescribed algorithm, but rather to require a closer than usual review based in part of discrepant impact among married couples and in part on the importance of state interests in regulating marriage. Our decision then test the rationales offered for DOMA, taking account of Supreme Court precedent limiting which rationales can be counted and of the force of certain rationales.
The unanimous decision was written by Judge Michael Boudin, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush. Boudin’s decision was joined by Chief Judge Sandra Lynch (appointed by President Clinton) and Judge Juan Torruella (appointed by President Reagan). Judges Lynch and Torruella are both alumni of Boston University School of Law.