Largest bankruptcy court blasts DOMA

The largest federal bankruptcy court in the United States on Monday ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution. In a strongly worded decision, the 20 judges participating in the decision, ruled unanimously that “there is no valid governmental basis for DOMA.”

The case, in re Balas, involves a gay male couple in California who filed for joint bankruptcy protection as a married couple. But the U.S. Department of Justice’s Trustee (known as the U.S. Trustee), who has oversight on bankruptcy cases, asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles, to dismiss the case. The Trustee said the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) precludes the court from recognizing the couple’s marriage.

Gene Balas and Carlos Morales were legally married in California in 2008 and are still legally married, despite the enactment of Proposition 8. In February, after struggling against serious illnesses and unemployment, they filed a joint petition for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The code provides for any individual and his or her spouse to file a joint application.

“The Debtors,” said the court, referring to the couple, “have demonstrated that DOMA violates their equal protection rights afforded under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, either under heightened scrutiny or under rational basis review. Debtors also have demonstrated that there is no valid governmental basis for DOMA. In the end, the court finds that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of the Debtors as recognized under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.”

The 24-page decision underscored the judges’ opinion about the unfairness of DOMA, essentially chastising Congress for having passed DOMA.

“Although individual members of Congress have every right to express their views and the views of their constituents with respect to their religious beliefs and principles and their personal standards of who may marry whom,” said the decision, “this court cannot conclude that Congress is entitled to solemnize such views in the laws of this nation in disregard of the views, legal status and living arrangements of a significant segment of our citizenry that includes the Debtors in this case.

In its decision, the court’s panel noted that House Speaker John Boehner’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group asked to submit arguments in the matter but did not do so.

3 Responses to Largest bankruptcy court blasts DOMA

  1. Ultimately it’s not going to matter which states write discrimination against law-abiding, taxpaying Gay couples into their constitutions, nor will it matter which states grant marriage equality to those same couples, because it is the FEDERAL government that bestows most of the legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities that married couples receive. This is an issue that the Supreme Court of the United States will eventually have to tackle, and I’m confident that they will decided that there is no Constitutional justification for denying Gay couples the same legal benefits that Straight couples have always taken for granted.

    The main sticking point is the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was signed, to his eternal shame, by President Bill Clinton. DOMA is transparently unconstitutional, since it establishes differing legal standards for Gay and Straight couples in the United States. It would be preferable if Congress would simply repeal DOMA, but as cowardly as most of our elected officials seem to be, it will probably be up to the Supreme Court to declare DOMA unconstitutional.

    WHY is DOMA unconstitutional? Consider: A Straight couple legally married in Iowa is automatically entitled to 1,138 legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities according to the Government Accounting Office (GAO). Many of those benefits have to do with tax law, Social Security, inheritance rights, child custody, and so on. But because of DOMA, a Gay couple that is legally married in Iowa is still unrecognized by the federal government for those benefits.

    Consider, also, the “Full Faith & Credit” clause of the Constitution. Because of this, any Straight couple can fly off to Las Vegas for drunken weekend, get married by an Elvis impersonator, and that marriage is automatically honored in all 50 states, and at all levels of government. And if two first cousins get married in a state where such a marriage is legal, but then they move to state where is is ILLEGAL, the marriage is still honored under the “Full Faith & Credit” clause. But thanks to DOMA, a Gay couple that is legally married in Iowa becomes UN-married if they relocate south to Missouri.

    The ONLY real difference between a married Gay couple and a married Straight couple is the gender of the two people who have made the commitment. It has nothing to do with procreation, since couples do not need a marriage license to make babies, nor is the ability or even desire to make babies a prerequisite for obtaining a marriage license. So there is really no constitutional justification for denying law-abiding, taxpaying Gay couples the same legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities that married Straight couples have always taken for granted. This cannot be accomplished in a piecemeal, state-by-state fashion; it is the FEDERAL government which, through its own actions, has made this a federal issue.

  2. Francoise says:

    This is actually the best news in a long time! Dominoes anyone?

    Only two things are missing here: a link to the decision and a good print format – please.

  3. Francoise says:

    And the court is absolutely correct for the simple reason that Congress has no more right to abrogate a ‘fundamental’ right than do the voters of California. There is no need for strict scrutiny since courts have ruled there is not even a rational basis – it can’t even pass muster under the basic sanity test. It’s all a house of cards and it will all come down in due time.

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