In 1996, by a vote of 342–67 in the House and 85–14 in the Senate, the United States Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and President Clinton signed it into law. Section 3 of DOMA defines marriage as the union of husband and wife for purposes of federal law.
Yesterday, a single federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that Section 3 of DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution. The judge concluded that there is no “rational basis” to support DOMA and that DOMA could only have been motivated by “irrational prejudice” and “animus.”
In 1996 Congress stated that protecting marriage as the union of husband and wife would advance the public interest in “responsible procreation and childbearing.” Previously the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that marriage is “fundamental to our very existence and survival” and has “more to do with the morals and civilization of a people than any other institution.”
Yesterday, the federal judge in Massachusetts concluded that the public interest in procreation and childrearing does not provide a rational basis for upholding DOMA. The judge also declared that, under the U.S. Constitution, “defending traditional notions of morality” is not a permissible basis for supporting DOMA.
In a related opinion, the judge also ruled that, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, the federal government “plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution].” Although the Tenth Amendment certainly does reinforce the limits on national authority in the Constitution, even influential liberal law professors, such as Jack Balkin, have expressed concern with this argument as applied to a federal statute like DOMA.
President Obama’s Justice Department should promptly appeal this decision with appropriate vigor. More than just the distribution of federal benefits is at stake in this litigation. In 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court redefined marriage in the Bay State because, it said, the traditional definition was “rooted in persistent prejudices” and supported by “no rational reason.” As The Heritage Foundation said at the time, such rulings alter marriage’s “core meaning, for to redefine marriage so that it is not intrinsically related to the relationship between fathers, mothers, and children would sever the institution from its nature and purpose.”
It is imperative for the American people, at every level of government and in every way necessary, to redouble their efforts in defense of the institution of marriage.