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On Sunday, on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1967 DOMA ruling, a trio of federal judges issued new rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a controversial federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, as well as the law’s corresponding federal regulations, which barred the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples, including those licensed by the state.
DOMA’s defenders argued that they were motivated by the law’s supposed discriminatory impact on the children of same-sex couples. That was a convenient rationalization that fell apart in a court of law on Friday, when federal district judges in California, Washington, and Montana found the constitutionality of DOMA unconstitutional; the third federal district judge in the case dismissed the arguments for federal benefits for same-sex couples and for the law.
Now the two remaining federal district judges — in Idaho and Utah — have issued new rulings striking down DOMA for the first time. In both cases, the parties have appealed their rulings. On Monday, a lower court in Idaho and another in Utah denied the petitions to the Supreme Court for reconsideration of those decisions.
So far, though, the Supreme Court has only responded to DOMA’s stay application by issuing a stay-in ruling, meaning the stay is in effect when it gets there; a stay-in ruling cannot be reversed. If a stay-in ruling is issued, the Supreme Court must then decide whether it has jurisdiction to decide the constitutionality of the law. Both the Utah and Idaho cases are under review, and it is not yet clear what the Supreme Court will decide on Monday. In any event, the decision on DOMA’s stay, which could potentially block it from going into effect, came Friday.
It is worth stressing that the Utah- and Idaho-case decisions are on appeal; the federal districts were not vacated, but rather the lower courts were amended, and replaced some of the same judges who issued the original rulings. (In these two cases, the lower court judges who issued the original rulings — at least — were the same judges who are on the court being reviewed.)
For this reason, it is difficult to predict how the Supreme Court will do in its appeal of these cases. But the case at hand, Hollingsworth v. Perry, was settled in 2000,