WASHINGTON (ABP) — A federal judge in Washington State has upheld the constitutionality of a 1996 federal law that defines marriage exclusively in heterosexual terms — making him the first federal jurist to rule on the law.
Judge Paul Snyder of the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Tacoma said that the Defense of Marriage Act does not violate the constitutional rights of a lesbian couple who attempted to file for personal bankruptcy as a married couple.
Ann and Lee Kandu wed in Canada in 2003. Two months after returning to their home in Washington, they attempted to apply jointly for bankruptcy. The federal Justice Department opposed their filing, saying DOMA prohibited it. The Kandus argued that DOMA violated their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, as well as state's rights.
Their brief relied heavily on arguments from last year's Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision legalizing gay marriage in that state, as well as a 2002 United States Supreme Court decision overturning state laws that banned gay sex acts because they had no rational governmental purpose outside of penalizing private activity by one group of people.
In the bankruptcy case, government attorneys argued that denying marriage to same-sex couples was “rationally related to the legitimate government interest in encouraging the development of relationships optimal for procreating and childrearing.”
Snyder said that, although he was not unsympathetic to the Kandus' case and believed children could be reared equally well by same-sex couples, he was required to give broad deference to Congress' decisions.
“This court cannot say,” Snyder wrote, that “limitation of marriage to one man and one woman is not wholly irrelevant to the achievement of the government's interest.”
Snyder's decision becomes the first federal ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA's provisions. Challenges to the law are also pending in other federal courts.