Friday, July 9, 2010

Federal judge rules against gay marriage ban

Joseph Louis Tauro, the federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, has just ruled unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

There are two rulings involved.

Here are some excerpts from the first.

Equal Protection of the Laws.

[T]he Constitution ‘neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.’” It is with this fundamental principle in mind that equal protection jurisprudence takes on “governmental classifications that ‘affect some groups of citizens differently than others.’” And it is because of this “commitment to the law’s neutrality where the rights of persons are at stake” that legislative provisions which arbitrarily or irrationally create discrete classes cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.

To say that all citizens are entitled to equal protection of the laws is “essentially a direction [to the government] that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.” But courts remain cognizant of the fact that “the promise that no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws must coexist with the practical necessity that most legislation classifies for one purpose or another, with resulting disadvantage to various groups or persons.” And so, in an attempt to reconcile the promise of equal protection with the reality of lawmaking, courts apply strict scrutiny, the most searching of constitutional inquiries, only to those laws that burden a fundamental right or target a suspect class.
What remains, therefore, is the possibility that Congress sought to deny recognition to same-sex marriages in order to make heterosexual marriage appear more valuable or desirable. But to the extent that this was the goal, Congress has achieved it “only by punishing same-sex couples who exercise their rights under state law.” And this the Constitution does not permit. “For if the constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it must at the very least mean” that the Constitution will not abide such “a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group.”
This court simply “cannot say that DOMA is directed to any identifiable legitimate
purpose or discrete objective. It is a status-based enactment divorced from any factual context which [this court] could discern a relationship to legitimate [government] interests.” Indeed, Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution clearly will not permit. In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue. By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court that the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. To further divide the class of married individuals into those with spouses of the same sex and those with spouses of the opposite sex is to create a distinction without meaning. And where, as here, “there is no reason to believe that the disadvantaged class is different, in relevant respects” from a similarly situated class, this court may conclude that it is only irrational prejudice that motivates the challenged classification. As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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