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Connecticut Judge Rules DOMA Unconstitutional in Pedersen

Connecticut District Court Judge Vanessa Bryant issues a ruling striking down DOMA, declaring there is “no conceivable rational basis” for the law and that it thus violates the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection principles.  Judge Bryant’s ruling comes after a long delay in the case, which had been fully briefed in October 2011, and after an attempt by BLAG to keep the court from issuing any ruling on DOMA’s constitutionality.

Judge Bryant’s ruling contains a detailed and compelling takedown of the various legislative reasons offered by BLAG in defense of DOMA.  She writes that the law does nothing to promote marriage between heterosexuals or attempt to ensure children are raised by two parents of the opposite sex and has no bearing on traditional notions of morality, writing that “there is no universal position shared amongst Judeo-Christian faiths regarding the morality of same-sex marriage.”  She also points out that DOMA undermines the principle of federalism by sabotaging the individual states’ attempts at democratic self-governance.

In her ruling, Judge Bryant devotes over 40 pages to a detailed and fact-based argument that DOMA should be considered under heightened scrutiny, and that gays and lesbians are entitled to increased constitutional protections as a suspect class.  Nevertheless, she officially bases her decision on DOMA’s constitutionality on the lower rational basis review, arguing that even under the most deferential of standards, DOMA cannot survive.

Intriguingly, Judge Bryant includes the following in a footnote:

“The Court notes that the Supreme Court has recognized the existence of a fundamental right to marry…. [T]he Supreme Court’s recognition in Lawrence that the ‘right of homosexual adults to engage in intimate, consensual conduct’ is also [an] essential part of the liberty protected by the Constitution like the right to marry suggests that the liberty interest in marriage should not be restricted by sexual orientation.  Although not the subject of this Court’s opinion nor the Parties’ briefing, the Court notes that this line of reasoning could serve as an alternative basis for the application of heightened scrutiny to classifications based on sexual orientation.”

This line of reasoning is remarkably similar to that argued by the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case, and raises the possibility that the U.S. Constitution contains a fundamental right to marriage that gay protects gay couples in the same way it protects straight couples.  As Judge Bryant notes, that right is not at issue in the Pedersen case, but it provides a blueprint for future court challenges seeking marriage equality nationwide.

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