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Jul. 12 2010 - 3:22 pm | 492 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

DOMA ruled unconstitutional, thanks in part to 10th amendment

In a surprising twist of fate, the 10th amendment– the one that protects states’ rights, and is a big fav of right wingers and teabaggers– is being implemented to protect the rights of same sex citizens in Massachusetts.  Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general, was all like: how can DOMA (the Defense of Marriage act, which prevents same-sex marriages from being recognized by the federal government) be used to deny civil rights to the people of Massachusetts?  And this judge was all like: good question.

Really, really good question.  Turns out, it’s unconstitutional.

In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue. By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court that the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. 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. [emphasis added]

YES!  Also, this:

…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. [emphasis added]

It’s pretty amazing to see bias and bigotry called out for exactly what it is– “irrational prejudice,” and “a distinction without meaning.”

It’s also interesting to see the 10th amendment being used to protect the rights of a minority– an idea that is largely absent from the teabag narrative about states’ rights.  Dan Savage said it best to Tony Perkins on CNN back in 2008, when Prop 8 was overturned:

“The constitution exists to protect the rights of vulnerable minorities against the tyranny of the majority.”

Thanks to Coakley and this Massachusetts federal judge, the constitution is doing just that.  This is very good news.


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  1. collapse expand

    I fully support the equality of all people, but for the sake of objective analysis I must disagree with the emphatic pronouncement of DOMA’s unconstitutionality. First off, the scope of the impact of this decision, at this point, is limited only to Massachusetts. Second, I am inclined to think the judge in this case had an agenda, and while I admire his goal I am suspect of his means.
    The reason for my trepidation is after studying in this area, I believe there is about a 9% chance of this holding up on appeal. Most likely the 1st Circuit will overrule and the reason is the bar is very low for the feds. While Judge Toro was quick to dismiss any and all rational basis for excluding gay couples from federal benefits, I would have preferred if he analytically picked apart each argument the feds put forth and explained why it is not relevant nor rational. Instead, he simply made grand pronouncements of irrational prejudice that unfortunately won’t fly at the higher levels of jurists.
    Perhaps an example will help make my point. I am single, never married, yet I am not entitled to these benefits (and yes I would like lower taxes). Sure looks and feels like discrimination to me, so how can that be acceptable?
    The bottom line is I would love for DOMA to disappear, but it should be done by amending the legislation, not perverting the mechanics of the Constitution. People think the Constitution says “equality for everyone”, but it doesn’t. I wish it did and I would vote for an amendment to that effect, but as of now it doesn’t.

  2. collapse expand

    “The constitution exists to protect the rights of vulnerable minorities against the tyranny of the majority.”

    No, it doesn’t.

    The Constitution protects the PEOPLE (the majority) from the tyranny of GOVERNMENT(the minority). The Constitution defines limits and authorities of government actions against the people – all of us. The “us against them” is not the people against the people; it’s the people against the government. And the less government interference and assumed authority, the better off the people are. Always. Period.

    If all branches of government worked the way they were supposed to, Congress would write the law (by taking on real issues of substance and importance to Americans, not worrying about steroid pimples on the butts of baseball players); the Executive branch would execute the written laws (not write or re-write it through executive orders and appointment of czars outside of Constitutional review and approval), and the Judicial branch would only review the validity of contested law against the powers enumerated in the Constitution (not write or re-write law based on judges’ personal views).

    Asserting the 10th Amendment tells the federal government it has overstepped its limited scope of power granted by the Constitution, usurping the power that rightly belongs to the states and the people of those states. Over the years, states have permitted the federal government – which is supposed to be the weakest level of government – to become the strongest, neutering state sovereignty by falling prey to bribes of federal funding for programs that should otherwise have no “legs.”

    I applaud Massachusetts’ tactic of asserting its right to sovereignty under the 10th Amendment. More states MUST do so. The federal government has become too big, too intrusive, and completely unaffordable – not to mention unconstitutional.

    “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” – Thomas Paine

    The inmates have run the asylum for too long…
    Time for the people to take back the authority that is rightly ours. All of the people.

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