U.S District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled Thursday that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.
Enacted in 1996 DOMA defines “marriage” and “spouse,” for purposes of federal law, to include only the union of one man and one woman.
The Massachusetts plaintiffs, seven same-sex couples and three widowers, claimed that because of DOMA, their families were denied critically important rights and protections that interfered with the state's authority to regulate marriage.
Massachusetts Attorney General Spokeswoman, Amie Breton, told Boise Weekly the decision applies only to Massachusetts and any appeals would be up to the Obama administration.
“Because there was no stay in the law suit,” said Breton, “starting today immediately effective same-sex wedded couples in Massachusetts are eligible for federal benefits. That means this decision is binding for the federal agencies.”
For states like Idaho with constitutional bans, the Massachusetts decision appears to have no bearing.
Idaho Attorney General spokesperson, Bob Cooper said his office has not yet seen the decision but based on news accounts said:
“On its face it would appear this is not going to have any impact on the state of the law in Idaho. The decision is not inconsistent with the Idaho constitutional provision in which the state has defined marriage. From that perspective, it wouldn’t matter what a particular state’s definition of marriage is this ruling would uphold the authority of the states to define marriage.”
Tauro stated: “There are at least, a total of 1,138 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which marital status is a factor.”
Same-sex couples legally married or not, except in Massachusetts, are denied the right to file joint tax returns, claim Social Security survivor benefits, take family medical leave, as well as take gift and estate tax exemptions, have joint workplace health care and collect a spouse's retirement.
“The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid,” wrote Judge Tauro.