This morning while all of the major news organizations talk themselves silly over LeBron James joining the Miami Heat basketball team, important history is being ignored. In a way, that's just fine by me. Sometimes when civil rights advances fly under the radar, there's less public backlash. If you don't know yet what advances I am referring to, it's the Federal Court decision regarding DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).
Last night a Federal judge (appointed by Republican Richard Nixon) made his final decision known. DOMA, at least part of DOMA, is unconstitutional. The bottom line is that same-sex married couples in Massachusetts are entitled to the same Federal benefits as other straight married couples. In other words Social Security, filing joint taxes and some other 1,100 Federal benefits can not be denied to same-sex couples. This is huge because the ruling can, and probably will, have broader implications for other states offering same-sex marriage.
Now, I am certainly in no way a legal expert, but from what I understand this decision takes effect immediately (after a two week waiting period), whether the case is appealed or not. So today, same-sex couples in Massachusetts are truly equal. Massachusetts has led the way for the rest of the country in fighting for marriage equality, with it's first legal gay weddings taking place back in 2004. Once again they have paved the way for the rest of the country to follow.
The possible down side to all of this is (once again I'm not a legal expert), the judge, in part, referenced the Tenth Amendment. Basically saying that the Federal government over-stepped it's bounds by dictating to the states which of it's citizens can and can not marry. The ruling said that states can decide who gets married. The problem with this is that it could put a crimp in the next big marriage equality case (Proposition 8) coming down the pike from California, which could basically over-turn all state bans on same-sex marriage if it is accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A big plus for us marriage equality people, in this argument, is that if states are allowed to discriminate by not allowing same-sex couples to marry, then it would also be logical that states could then prohibit interracial couples from marrying as well. But that had already been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and that decision should also apply to gay couples.
The other thing in our favor is the judge also referenced the Fifth Amendment, saying that DOMA violated equal protection in the due process clause. And then he went on to say, "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."