The White House was mum Friday about
plans to appeal a Massachusetts gay marriage ruling, saying only that
the administration is “reviewing the decision.”
The decision handed down Thursday by
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro says the Defense of
Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fourteenth Amendment's equal
The 1996 law signed by President Bill
Clinton defines marriage as a heterosexual union for federal agencies
and allows states to ignore the legal marriages of gay couples
performed outside their borders.
The act “plainly encroaches” on a
state's right to define marriage, Tauro wrote.
“Congress undertook this
classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside the
legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves.
And such a classification the Constitution clearly will not permit,”
The ruling's narrow scope leaves much
of the law unscathed and applies only in Massachusetts.
Plaintiffs had argued that the law
denies legally married gay couples access to federal benefits.
President Barack Obama called DOMA
“abhorrent” and called for its legislative repeal while
campaigning. But a repeal bill sponsored by New York Congressman
Jerrold Nadler has attracted little interest and only 112 co-sponsors
since its introduction. And the president has yet to directly
mention the Respect for Marriage Act, Rep. Nadler's bill.
The Department of Justice, which has
said it is obliged to defend the laws approved by Congress, has not
announced whether it will appeal the ruling. It has 14 days to
decide before the ruling goes into effect.
The decision pushes the administration
to walk a tight rope. Tauro's ruling remains limited to
Massachusetts, but in appealing to a higher court with a broader
jurisdiction the government risks spreading the ruling's impact.
Left unchallenged, however, the ruling could encourage other states
where gay marriage is legal to challenge the federal law. Gay
marriage is legal in Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and
the District of Columbia.
marriage opponents have suggested the administration's defense of the
law was weak.