The appeals court that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional Thursday should have written, “Let's get ready to rumble” at the end of its 35-page decision. By ruling that same-sex couples, legally married in enlightened states, can’t be denied federal benefits routinely available to opposite sex couples, the court all but assured the next round in this dispute will be fought in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Under DOMA, same-sex couples, for instance, can’t file joint federal income tax returns, which could lighten their tax burdens. And a widowed, same-sex spouse can’t collect Social Security survivor benefits. That’s wrong and the nation's top court should set it right.
Unfortunately the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston didn’t rule on the constitutionality of a different DOMA provision that absolves states from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. And it didn’t weigh in on the even hotter dispute about DOMA’s definition of marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman.”
The nation’s top court will eventually have to resolve all these issues. But if the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the law means anything, then same-sex couples must be permitted to marry. Any prohibition or diminution of that right relegates people in same-sex marriages to second class citizenship.
The District of Columbia and six states, New York included, allow same-sex couples to marry. The rest of the nation should too, and probably will — one day. But the courts shouldn’t wait. Nobody’s constitutional rights should be held hostage until enough voters or state lawmakers or members of Congress see the light.
Making sure-same sex couples are not denied the financial benefits of marriage is a step in the right direction.