Yesterday, in a decision sure to shake up the gay marriage debate, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro, ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The law, wich was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996, defined marriage as between one man and one woman as it related to the status of married couples who receive federal benefits from programs like Social Security.
The suit had been brought by married gay couples in Massachusetts, which is one of the five states to recognize gay marriage. Because gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, the plantiffs claimed that the federal government, in denying them the same benefits given to other married couples, was discriminating against them based on sexual orientation. Judge Tauro, who has been on the bench in Massachusetts since he was appointed by President Nixon in 1972, ruled that it was a clear case of discrimination, and therefore a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Interestingly, Judge Tauro also ruled that the ban was unconstitutional on the grounds of federalism, ruling that the federal law violated the rights of individual states to define marriage as they saw fit. While 21st Century Jeffersonians are strongly supportive of state's rights, this particular case may prove problematic. The right to marriage is a natural right enjoyed by all, and a state government has no more right to interfere with it than does the federal government.
All in all, this is an excellent ruling, increasing the rights of the people and rolling back the federal government's encroachment on an area where it should have no authority. 21st Century Jeffersonians can hold whatever views they please about the theological, moral, or philosophical aspects of homosexuality. But when it comes to the law and the Constitution, we believe that all citizens possess equal rights and that it's unacceptable to deny a particular group the same rights enjoyed by everyone else. We should do away with attempts to ban gay marriage for the very same reason we once did away with attempts to ban interracial marriage.
More importantly, the government has no business and no right interfering in the personal lives of its citizens. As Jefferson said, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others." If a man wants to marry a man or a woman wants to marry a woman, it inflicts absolutely no harm on anyone, and therefore the government has absolutely no business getting involved.