Federal ban on gay marriages unconstitutional, judge rules

By Associated Press
Friday, July 9, 2010

BOSTON -- A U.S. judge ruled Thursday that a federal ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional because it interferes with a state's right to define marriage.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro's ruling came in two challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA.

Massachusetts said the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in the state, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004.

Tauro agreed, saying the act forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its citizens. The act "plainly encroaches" upon the right of the state to determine marriage, the judge said.

In a separate case, Tauro ruled that the act violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Although his rulings apply only to Massachusetts, they could have broader implications for other states in which same-sex marriage is legal if they are upheld on appeal.

Opponents of same-sex marriage said they were certain the rulings would be overturned on appeal.

Congress enacted the law in 1996 when it appeared that Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. Since then, five states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit challenges only the portion of the law that prevents the federal government from affording pension and other benefits to same-sex couples.

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