Jump directly to the Content


Silver Lining for Churches in Second Circuit Deciding DOMA Is Unconstitutional?

Judge: "Law (federal or state) is not concerned with holy matrimony."

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The decision follows the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against DOMA in May. But what's new is language noting the separation of civil marriage from religious marriage.

By a 2-to-1 vote in Windsor v. United States, the New York appeals court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA–which requires the federal government to treat same-sex couples as single–violates the Constitution's ability to provide homosexual couples equal protection under the Fifth Amendment. The issue is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already been asked to review the First Circuit ruling.

Chief judge Dennis Jacobs wrote the majority opinion, in which the court stated, "Because DOMA is an unprecedented breach of longstanding deference to federalism that singles out same-sex marriage as the only inconsistency (among many) in state law that requires a federal rule to achieve uniformity, the rationale premised on uniformity is not an exceedingly persuasive justification for DOMA."

Of more interest to churches and pastors, Jacobs' ruling also stated that "law (federal or state) is not concerned with holy matrimony. Government deals with marriage as a civil status–however fundamental–and New York has elected to extend that status to same-sex couples. A state may enforce and dissolve a couple's marriage, but it cannot sanctify or bless it. For that, the pair must go next door."

In the Second Circuit case, Edith "Edie" Windsor sued the federal government for failing to recognize her marriage to her wife, Thea Spyer, after Spyer died in 2009. Under DOMA, the Internal Revenue Service forced Windsor to pay federal estate taxes totaling $363,053 because she was not legally recognized as a surviving spouse.

CT previously reported President Barack Obama's announcement in 2011 that the government no longer would "defend the constitutionality of [DOMA]."

Support Our Work

Subscribe to CT for less than $4.25/month

Read These Next