Denial of Federal Spousal Benefits to Gay Couples Legally Married Under State Law Rejected by Intermediate Federal Appellate Court and Poised to Reach the US Supreme Court

First there was the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

It proclaims that, as far as federal law is concerned, the only legally valid marriages are between heterosexual partners. That’s its main point.

But, consistent with that premise, DOMA denies federal benefits (such as social security survivors’ benefits and the advantages of filing federal taxes jointly) to gay partners who are legally married under applicable state law.

Now an intermediate level federal appellate court has struck down as unconstitutionally discriminatory that denial of benefits to gay spouses under DOMA.

Not surprisingly, appeal has been made to the US Supreme Court.

This case does not squarely address the legality of gay marriage.

Rather it focuses on the narrower issue of whether the denial of federal benefits under federal law to a legal spouse under state law is impermissibly discriminatory under the US constitution.

The question of whether marriage is ultimately defined and regulated by state law or federal law is intimately bound up in these issues though.

And the determination may have implications for divorce law, which has always been viewed as purely a matter of state law. Until now.

More and more gay couples legally married in one state are often hitting brick walls trying to get a divorce in another state they have moved to.

The potential applicability of federal equal protection under the law and discrimination under federal constitutional law are of more than passing curiosity to them. And to divorce lawyers.

Read more in this New York Times article: Appeals Court Turns Back Marriage Act as Unfair to Gays.