HRC Blog

Bankruptcy Court Rules DOMA is Unconstitutional

HRC Staff Attorney Zack Launer contributed to this posting.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, the largest bankruptcy court in the country, issued an opinion declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in a bankruptcy filing brought by Gene Douglas Balas and Carlos A. Morales, a same-sex couple who were married in California. In an unprecedented show of support for its conclusions, twenty of the 25 bankruptcy judges in the district signed  the opinion.     

Last month, a trustee –the individual responsible for administering the case and ensuring that the debtors fairly distribute their assets to their creditors— moved to dismiss their case, asserting that Balas and Morales could not file a joint petition because DOMA’s definition of “spouse” prohibited the court from recognizing their marriage as valid. After reviewing the trustee’s argument and evaluating the governmental interests of DOMA, the bankruptcy court could not find “any valid governmental interest is advanced by DOMA as applied to the Debtors.” Relying heavily on Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter to Congress explaining why the Justice Department would no longer defend DOMA, the court rejected numerous defenses of the statute, including that it serves such interests as “preserving the status quo” and “eliminating inconsistencies and easing administrative burdens” of the government. In fact, the court concluded that only basis for the law is “an apparent belief that the moral views of the majority may properly be enacted as the law of the land” and that such a justification violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.  

Notably, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), which is utilizing taxpayer dollars to defend DOMA in several other cases, ultimately declined to intervene in this case, even after receiving a short continuance from the court to determine whether to do so.   

It is historic that yet another federal court has stated what we all know to be true – DOMA is discriminatory, unconstitutional and cannot stand.

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