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False Alarm

Earlier this evening, there was speculation that Judge Vaughn Walker would issue his decision on Prop 8, sending the media and others to the San Francisco courthouse. But the rumored 6 p.m. time of decision came and went.

It would have been auspicious timing, but not because it would have overlapped with LeBron James seconds-turned-into-hour announcement that he’s going to Miami, but because another decision was rendered in a federal court in Massachusetts overturning a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

That portion limited the definition of marriage to a man and a woman for
purposes of federal laws, was unconstitutional. At stake are more than
1,000 federal marriage-based benefits that are given to heterosexual
couples but not same-sex couples.

“In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that
differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based
benefits from one not so entitled,” U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro
wrote in one of two decisions he rendered on suits challenging the federal ban. “And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference
might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue.” 

His decision faces an uncertain future as it heads to the higher courts. But the decision puts the Obama administration in the position of appealing in an effort to uphold a law he opposes. 

Chad Griffin of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is seeking to overturn Prop 8, citing the constitution’s equal protection clause, noted that the judge cited a similar rationale in overturning DOMA.

Griffin said, “The Defense of Marriage Act clearly violates the U.S. Constitution’s
guarantee of equal protection under the law. Creating separate classes
of people to deny them federal benefits, like DOMA does, is
discrimination and it is wrong.”

Update: I confess not to know the legal implications, but there is a contrast in the way that the government has defended DOMA and Proposition 8 in the respective trials. It’s simple: Re: DOMA, the Obama administration has defended the federal ban on same-sex marriage and is expected to appeal the ruling; re: Proposition 8, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have essentially stepped aside and instead have left the defense to Protect Marriage, the group that fought for the proposition in the first place. If the Obama administration were to step away from the DOMA case, couldn’t traditional marriage groups step in as intervenors just as they have done in the Prop 8 trial?

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