A federal judge in Boston ruled yesterday that portions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are unconstitutional because they violate the 10th Amendment, which protects an individual state’s right to define marriage. U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro issued one strongly worded opinion in two separate cases that came before him in May, stating that the federal ban on gay marriage forced Massachusetts (where gay marriage is legally recognized) “to engage in invidious discrimination against its own citizens in order to receive and retain federal funds.”

While issuing his landmark decision, Judge Tauro explained that DOMA also violates the Fifth Amendment, because “irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest.” He went on to point out that “the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. To further divide the class of married individuals into those with spouses of the same sex and those with spouses of the opposite sex is to create a distinction without meaning.” 

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who argued on behalf of same-sex couples, said, “It’s exactly the result we that wanted. The federal government really doesn’t have an interest in telling Massachusetts, and has never in the past had an ability to dictate, how states define marriage. Marriage has been an issue that has been decided by the states.”

As expected, gay marriage opponents are crying “activist federal judge,” while urging that the case be appealed.

So far, Judge Tauro’s ruling only applies to same-sex couples in Massachusetts. However, if a higher court, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, upholds Judge Tauro’s decision on appeal, the impact of his ruling could extend well beyond the state.