In a unanimous decision yesterday, the First Circuit declared section 3 of Congress's Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. This provision states that "the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife." 1 U.S.C. § 7.
The court noted in its opinion that the case was "difficult because it couples issues of equal protection and federalism with the need to assess the rationale for a congressional statute passed with minimal hearings and lacking in formal findings," adding, "only the Supreme Court can finally decide this unique case." You can read the First Circuit's opinion here: Massachusetts v. Health and Human Services Department, No. 10-2204 (1st Cir. May 31, 2012). Here are some of the initial reactions from around the web:
- Robert Barnes, Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, federal appeals court declares, WashingtonPost.com (May 31, 8:28 PM) (HTML) ("The decision by the Obama administration not to defend DOMA — a law that was signed but is now disavowed by Clinton — prompted an angry response from House Republican leaders. They hired Paul D. Clement, who was solicitor general in the administration of George W. Bush, to defend the law in court.").
- Jay Michaelson, DOMA Ruling is Test for Conservative Federalists, The Daily Beast (May 31, 2012 5:52 PM EDT) (HTML) ("Self-proclaimed federalists should be thrilled with the federal appeals court ruling overturning the Defense of Marriage Act ... but they probably won’t be.").
- Lyle Denniston, DOMA ban on gay marriage falls, SCOTUSblog (May 31, 2012 1:03 PM) (HTML).
And here is a video of the Wall Street Journal's Ashby Jones discussing the First Circuit's decision and how it might play out before the Supreme Court and in state courts across the country: