Family groups say anti-DOMA decision threatens marriage

The legal definition of marriage nationwide is at risk because of a federal appeals court decision that declared part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional for restricting federal benefits to married opposite-sex couples, pro-family leaders say.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, asserted May 31 that the judges realized that legal precedent does not allow them to redefine marriage “so they are making up new standards to justify imposing their values on the rest of the nation.”

“They dismiss the centuries-old understanding of marriage as a critical social institution that exists for the benefit of couples and their children, and which has served society well for thousands of years. Instead, they want their own politically-correct views to be imposed, and they are making up new law to do so,” Brown said.

On May 31 a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston unanimously ruled that the law deprives homosexual couples of the rights and privileges of heterosexual couples.

The Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 by a Senate vote of 85-14 and by a House vote of 342-67. It defines marriage in federal law as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” It also defines a spouse as referring “only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The court did not overturn provisions protecting states which do not recognize gay “marriage” from being forced to recognize same-sex unions contracted in other states.

However, the ruling agreed that the law interferes with a state’s right to define marriage and denies legally married same-sex couples the federal benefits given to married heterosexual couples, such as the ability to file joint tax returns.

The case will most likely proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court, a move that Brown said he hopes will happen.

“It’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and establish once and for all that preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman is not only completely constitutional, it is profoundly in the public good,” he said.

Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, said the decision is “disappointing” but also saw cause for hope that the legislation will be upheld after Supreme Court review.

Dale Showengert, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, also criticized the decision.

“Society should protect and strengthen marriage, not undermine it,” he said May 31. “The federal Defense of Marriage Act provides that type of protection, and we trust the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse the 1st Circuit’s erroneous decision.”

The court ruling was the result of lawsuits from Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and another from the Boston-based legal group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.

Plaintiff Jonathan Knight, who is in a legal same-sex marriage, told the Associated Press the case is “about having equality and not having a system of first- and second-class marriages.”

He said the legislation costs him and his same-sex partner an extra $1,000 a year because they cannot file a joint federal tax return.

Perkins noted that the federal court’s decision did not rely upon the contention that the legislation’s dominant purpose was “hostility to homosexuality.”

At the same time, Perkins lamented how it has become “too common for courts to show great disrespect to the American people and their representatives in arguing that efforts to defend marriage have been motivated by bias, bigotry, or animus.”

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Perkins then pointed out that voters in 32 states have voted to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Showengert said that the federal court’s decision allows one state to hold the federal government, and possibly other states, as a “hostage” to “redefine marriage.”

He questioned whether the court’s rationale means that if one state decided to accept polygamy, the federal government and perhaps other states would be forced to accept it as well.

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