In two separate opinions, a federal district judge in Massachusetts has ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution. Section 3 of DOMA excludes same-sex married couples from over 1,100 federal benefits (including social security survivor benefits and a host of other programs).
In one case, the judge held that Section 3 violated the equal protection rights of same-sex married couples. The judge ruled that the discriminatory policy lacked a rational basis.
The court rejected the government's asserted reasons for discriminating against same-sex couples. The government argued that DOMA encourages responsible procreation and child-bearing, defends and nurtures the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage, defends traditional notions of morality, and preserves scarce resources.
The court found these interests insufficient to warrant discrimination against same-sex married couples. The court also cited the lengthy record of overt homophobia among members of Congress who supported the legislation.
The second opinion held that Section 3 violated the 10th Amendment because it intrudes upon the ability of states to define marriage and because it conditions the receipt of federal benefits upon states depriving gays and lesbians of equal protection. The State of Massachusetts brought this lawsuit.
Unless an appeals court reverses these rulings, they will benefit same-sex married couples. The decisions, however, do not provide relief for most gays and lesbians who cannot legally marry.
Also, it is quite possible that an appeals court might reverse one or both of the rulings. The 10th Amendment ruling, in particular, seems quite vulnerable to reversal in my professional opinion. It seems to rest on a more constrained view of federal power than current Supreme Court doctrine mandates. Professor Jack Balkin agrees (arguing that the court's 10th Amendment arguments "prove entirely too much").