A federal appeals court on Thursday declared that the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutionally denies federal benefits to married gay couples,a groundbreaking ruling all but certain to wind up before the US Supreme Court.
In its unanimous decision,the three-judge panel of the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said the 1996 law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman deprives gay couples of the rights and privileges granted to heterosexual couples.
The court didnt rule on the laws more politically combustible provision,which said states without same-sex marriage cannot be forced to recognize gay unions performed in states where its legal. It also wasnt asked to address whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.
The law was passed at a time when it appeared Hawaii would legalize gay marriage. Since then,many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage,while eight states have approved it,led by Massachusetts in 2004.
The court,the first federal appeals panel to deem the benefits section of the law unconstitutional,agreed with a lower court judge who ruled in 2010 that the law interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples,including the ability to file joint tax returns.
For me,its more about having equality and not having a system of first and second-class marriages, said plaintiff Jonathan Knight,32,financial associate at Harvard Medical School who married Marlin Nabors in 2006.
Knight said DOMA costs the couple an extra $1,000 a year because they cannot file a joint federal tax return.
Opponents of gay marriage blasted the decision.
This ruling that a state can mandate to the federal government the definition of marriage for the sake of receiving federal benefits,we find really bizarre,rather arrogant,if I may say so, said Kris Mineau,president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.