Calif. Court Upholds Defense of Marriage Act

The Federal Defense of Marriage Act does not violate the U.S. Constitution, said a California court on Thursday in a ruling that upheld a 1996 law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

In the case of Smelt v. Orange County, U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor denied the request of Christopher Hammer and Arthur Smelt, who sought the right to marriage, arguing that California’s marriage laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

Taylor reasoned that although the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) deals specifically with matters of sexual orientation, the law is constitutional because it is in the interest of the government to support unions that allow procreation.

“The Court finds it is a legitimate interest to encourage the stability and legitimacy of what may reasonably be viewed as the optimal union for procreating and rearing children by both biological parents," wrote Taylor.

In refusing to rule on the constitutionality of California’s marriage laws and deferring to the state to make that decision, Taylor upheld the federal DOMA, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and does not require states to recognize same-sex unions performed in other states. To date, only two other rulings—in Washington state and Florida—have addressed the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Earlier this year, a San Francisco judge ruled that California’s marriage laws violate the state constitution. The decision is on hold, however, until an appeal filed by the state attorney general is decided upon.

Gay-rights groups had mixed responses to the case. Supporters of same-sex marriage argued that Taylor’s reasoning was illogical, questioning how same-sex marriage would affect the ability of heterosexual couples from having children and raising families. Many took offense at the judge’s implication that same-sex couples do not provide a good environment for children compared to opposite-sex couples.

Others in the gay-rights community expressed dismay that the case even went forward, and fear that taking the case further will risk an unfavorable ruling in a higher court. Attorney Richard Gilbert, who represented the couple, has already announced plans to appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Supporters of traditional marriage, on the other hand, applauded the court’s decision to uphold the federal DOMA.

Liberty Counsel’s President and General Counsel, Mathew D. Staver, commented, “I am thrilled that the court issued a common sense decision. Surely the state has legitimate interests in preserving marriage as a complementary opposite sex relationship. Traditional marriage is good for children, families and society.”

“Congress should pass a bill to amend the U.S. Constitution to preserve traditional marriage. Marriage should be decided by the people, not the courts,” continued Staver, highlighting one of the major goals of pro-family groups.