US appeals court rules against Defense of Marriage Act

Same-sex figurines on a wedding cake on California The Boston court is the first to rule against the benefits clause of the Defense of Marriage Act

Related Stories

A US appeals court has ruled key parts of a federal law denying benefits to same-sex couples are unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel in Boston, Massachusetts, unanimously said the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) discriminated against gay couples.

Under the act, legally married gay couples are denied benefits, including the ability to file joint tax returns.

The US Supreme Court must now decide the matter, since only it can rule if Congress' laws are constitutional.

The court did not rule on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The 1st Circuit appeals court agreed with a lower court's ruling that the federal law interfered with the states' right to define marriage.

Thursday's decision applies only to states within the circuit: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire and Puerto Rico.

It is the first federal appeals court to find the section of the law relating to federal tax, health and pension benefits unconstitutional.

"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.

"Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress' denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest."

Doma - enacted in 1996 during the Clinton administration - defines marriage for federal purposes as a union exclusively between a man and a woman.

President Barack Obama said last year that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the Doma.

Gay marriage is legal in eight US states and the District of Columbia. In May, Mr Obama endorsed gay marriage.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More US & Canada stories


Features & Analysis

  • Martin Gardner as a young manThink hard

    Was this man the world's greatest puzzle master?

  • Carved pumpkinTrick or treat

    What did a riot at a pumpkin festival show about race in US?

  • A man in a biohazard suit decontaminates a handrail at a Dallas train station.Ebola and race

    Is prejudice fuelling outbreak hysteria in the US?

  • Oscar de la Renta and Oprah WinfreyIn pictures

    The life and work of Oscar de la Renta

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • FutureThe future is now

    Get the latest updates and biggest ideas from BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit


  • Smart glassesClick Watch

    Smart spectacles go into battle – the prototypes looking to take on Google Glass

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.