U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant today held in a federal case in Connecticut that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act — the federal definition of marriage — is unconstitutional.
Bryant, in a case brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, follows several other federal judges over the past two years to have reached the same conclusion. Federal judges in Massachusetts, California — in two different courts — and New York also have found DOMA's provision defining "marriage" and "spouse" as only being unions of one man and one woman in all federal laws unconstitutional, as well as one federal appeals court.
Bryant — appointed to the bench by President George W, Bush on April 2, 2007 — found that laws that classify people based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny by courts — as the Department of Justice and plaintiffs argued in the case — but found the provision of the 1996 law unconstitutional "even under the most deferential level of judicial scrutiny."
The House Republican leadership had defended the law's constitutionality in court, through its 3-2 majority on the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group. The group has been defending the law since the Obama administration stopped defending the law in February 2011.
In her decision in the case, Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management, Bryant found:
Having considered all four factors, this Court finds that homosexuals display all the traditional indicia of suspectness and therefore statutory classifications based on sexual orientation are entitled to a heightened form of judicial scrutiny. However, the Court need not apply a form of heightened scrutiny in the instant case to conclude that DOMA violates the promise of the equal protection as it is clear that DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster under even the most deferential level of judicial scrutiny.
She later concluded:
In sum, having considered the purported rational bases proffered by both BLAG and Congress and concluded that such objectives bear no rational relationship to Section 3 of DOMA as a legislative scheme, the Court finds that no conceivable rational basis exists for the provision. The provision therefore violates the equal protection principles incorporated in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The ruling comes as the Supreme Court is facing requests in several cases to decide the question of DOMA's constitutionality once and for all.