BOSTON (CN) – A federal judge on Thursday found the national Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The 1996 law bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. But U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled that it violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution, denying benefits to one class of married people – homosexual unions – but not others.
One case was brought by Attorney General Martha Coakley, the other by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
The rulings’ major effect, if upheld, would be to make homosexual couples eligible for the same federal benefits as heterosexual ones. Such benefits include Social Security survivors’ payments, and guaranteed sick leave from work to care for a spouse.
Judge Tauro ruled in the Gay and Lesbian Advocates case that the Defense of Marriage Act forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens in order to get money for some federal programs.
Tauro ruled in Coakley’s case that the Act violates the 10th Amendment, which states that all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states or the people.
Despite the gravity of the issues in cases certain to be appealed to the 1st Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court, the opinion in Coakley provides a somewhat entertaining sidelight. The 10th Amendment is a favored resort for advocates of right-wing causes. Asked for a comment on the ruling, Yale Law School Professor Jack Balkin told The New York Times that Tauro was “attempting to hoist conservatives by their own petard, by saying: ‘You like the 10th Amendment? I’ll give you the 10th Amendment!'”