In a surprising twist of fate, the 10th amendment– the one that protects states’ rights, and is a big fav of right wingers and teabaggers– is being implemented to protect the rights of same sex citizens in Massachusetts. Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general, was all like: how can DOMA (the Defense of Marriage act, which prevents same-sex marriages from being recognized by the federal government) be used to deny civil rights to the people of Massachusetts? And this judge was all like: good question.
Really, really good question. Turns out, it’s unconstitutional.
In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue. By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court 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. [emphasis added]
YES! Also, this:
…this court may conclude that it is only irrational prejudice that motivates the challenged classification. As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [emphasis added]
It’s pretty amazing to see bias and bigotry called out for exactly what it is– “irrational prejudice,” and “a distinction without meaning.”
It’s also interesting to see the 10th amendment being used to protect the rights of a minority– an idea that is largely absent from the teabag narrative about states’ rights. Dan Savage said it best to Tony Perkins on CNN back in 2008, when Prop 8 was overturned:
“The constitution exists to protect the rights of vulnerable minorities against the tyranny of the majority.”
Thanks to Coakley and this Massachusetts federal judge, the constitution is doing just that. This is very good news.