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A federal appeals court in Boston declared Thursday that the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in 1996, discriminates against gay couples and denies them basic federal benefits that are available for heterosexual couples.
The ruling is a large victory for the Obama administration, which refused to support the 1996 law, as well as several gay activist groups. Before the law was passed in 1996 it was up to the states to define marriage.
“One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage,” Judge Michael Boudin wrote for the court
The appeals court chose to side with judges that back in 2010 that had said the law denied same sex couples many of the rights heterosexual couple were given, such as joint tax returns, Social Security protection, and access to family health coverage.
“Congress does not get to put its ‘thumb on the scales,’ as the court put it, simply because it does not agree with Massachusetts’ decision to allow loving and committed same-sex couples to marry.” Said Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a Boston-based legal rights organization
Eight states since the law was passed have permitted same-sex marriage, beginning with Massachusetts in 2004, while others are still prohibiting it.
The ruling had stated that law intrudes upon the states’ regulation of domestic relations. This was brought up after Edith Windsor sued the government in 2010 because forced to pay 363,053 in real estate tax after her partner, Thea Spyer, died in 2009.
The ruling would not take effect until the Supreme Court decides the case, which means that same-sex married couples will not be able to gain economic benefits until the higher courts ruling is released.
“For me, it’s more just about having equality and not having a system of first- and second-class marriages,” said plaintiff Jonathan Knight, 32.