A federal judge in Tacoma, Washington upheld the constitutionality of the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a “legal union between one man and one woman, on Tuesday, August 17, 2004. The decision in effect ruled out the claim that “same-sex marriage” is a fundamental right, reflecting the position of evangelical and pro-family groups nationwide.
The Defense of Marriage Act, codified by President Clinton in 1996, specifically upholds two provisions on marriage: first, only heterosexual couples can wed and can thus qualify for federal benefits provided for married couples. Second, the law allows states to decline recognition of same-sex “marriage” licenses obtained from other states.
In the Tacoma case, Lee Kandu – an American woman who got “married” with her partner Ann in British Columbia last year – challenged the constitutionality of the DOMA’s first provision. Lee, whose partner had died with significant debt earlier in the year, tried to file a joint bankruptcy with her partner, but was rejected because the DOMA prevented her from being recognized as a legitimate spouse.
Kandu took her case to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington, where she claimed the DOMA violated the equal-protection clause of the Constitution.
Judge Paul B. Snyder, however, ruled that there is no fundamental right to marry someone of the same sex, and therefore, the claim was not valid. He mentioned that the marriage law specifies that “the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife,” and that the institution of marriage itself was “rationally related to the legitimate government interest in encouraging the development of relationships optimal for procreating and childbearing.”
"This court cannot say," Judge Snyder continued, that the "limitation of marriage to one man and one woman is not wholly irrelevant to the achievement of the government's interest."
The case comes as a surprise victory for those on the pro-family camp, which suffered a large setback earlier in the month under a similar case that was held in Seattle, Washington. The judge in the earlier case, opposite of Snyder, said barring homosexual “marriages” was unconstitutional.
"The precise question," judge William L. Downing of King County Superior Court, wrote, "is whether barring committed same-sex couples from the benefits of the civil marriage laws somehow serves the interest of encouraging procreation. There is no logical way in which it does so."
Downing’s decision, which has been stayed pending review by the Washington Supreme Court, does not specifically involve the federal marriage law. Thus, Snyder’s decision is the first ruling by a federal court on the constitutionality of the DOMA.
The pro-family Alliance Defense Fund lauded Snyder’s decision, saying that “the judge rightly concluded that no legal or historical support exists for concluding that anyone has a right to same-sex ‘marriage.’”
“The case for same-sex ‘marriage’ has been undermined,” continued ADF Senior Counsel Glen Lavy. “The law was challenged on several different legal and constitutional levels but did not succeed.”
Lavy also applauded Snyder’s direct opposition to Downing’s decision in the Anderson case.
“[T]his court disagrees with the contrary conclusion recently reached by the Superior Court for King County, Washington in Andersen, where it was determined that there is a fundamental right to marry someone of the same sex…. Contrary to the Andersen opinion, there are no grounds to conclude objectively that same-sex marriages are deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” Snyder wrote in his opinion.
Lavy commented: “We also agree with the judge in this case that the Washington Superior Court decision is wrong, and we intend to continue to challenge it on appeal. Same-sex ‘marriage’ is not inevitable.”