A federal appeals court in Boston, Massachusetts made a ground-breaking verdict on May 31 when they declared certain provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. DOMA was designed originally to confine the issue of gay marriage to a state’s rights arena. Since then, many states have passed laws that put them firmly for or against same sex marriage. While gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland and Washington D.C., there are many states in which a decision has not been rendered or gay marriage is banned entirely.
The Boston court stated that the Defense of Marriage Act denied homosexual couples equal rights to those of heterosexual couples by preventing them from performing basic tasks such as filing joint federal tax returns. This mirrors decisions made by a lower court in 2010, and it is almost certain that the decision made by the federal appeals court in Boston will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2011, President Barack Obama declared that the U.S. Department of Justice would cease to defend the constitutionality of DOMA.
While the initial decision is promising, there are still many tenets of the Defense of Marriage Act which have yet to be challenged in federal court. DOMA also states that a marriage between homosexuals does not have to be recognized by a state in which it is illegal for them to marry, even if they are legally wed in another state. Now that DOMA has worked its way up to the federal judicial level, it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court will be called to render a decision. Until they do, the law’s constitutionality remains intact.