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Challenge to
federal marriage ban tossed out

Challenge to
federal marriage ban tossed out


In one of the few challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a California judge on Thursday ruled that the 1996 law recognizing only unions between a man and a woman as valid does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

Deciding one of the few lawsuits arguing the case for same-sex marriage in federal court, a California judge on Thursday ruled that a federal law recognizing only unions between a man and a woman as valid does not violate the U.S. Constitution. But U.S. district judge Gary Taylor also declined to rule on whether a state ban on same-sex marriage violates the civil rights of a gay Southern California couple while a separate legal challenge to California's law works its way through the state courts. "The question of the constitutionality of California's statutory prohibition on same-sex marriage is novel and of sufficient importance that the California courts ought to address it first," he wrote. Taylor's ruling came in a case brought by Christopher Hammer and Arthur Smelt, a Mission Viejo couple who filed it last year as an alternative to the case advanced in the state courts by the city of San Francisco and a dozen same-sex couples. A state trial judge ruled in March that California's marriage laws run afoul of the state constitution, and the case is now on appeal. In upholding the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, Taylor said that even though the law "has a disproportionate effect on homosexual individuals," the government's desire to promote procreation is a valid reason for infringing on the rights of gay couples. "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," Taylor wrote, echoing the arguments often advanced by groups opposed to same-sex marriage. Byron Babione, a lawyer for the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, said Taylor's statement was a victory for advocates who want to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. "This court has defended the rights of voters to express what we know about marriage: that it is, was, and always will be a union between a man and a woman," Babione said. "Marriage isn't right because it's traditional; it's traditional because it's right." But the judge's declaration that families headed by opposite-sex parents are the best environment for raising children drew indignation and disbelief from same-sex marriage advocates, who called it a disservice to the thousands of children being raised in gay and lesbian households. "To say it would encourage procreation for heterosexual couples by denying same-sex couples the right to marry is illogical," said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal. "It's a mistake to think that denying marriage to same-sex couples has any effect on whether heterosexual couples have children and raise those children well." In refusing to decide whether California's marriage laws run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, Taylor noted that the Defense of Marriage Act explicitly empowers states to set their own marriage policies, even if they conflict with the laws of another state. "The California state statutes touch an important and sensitive area of a social institution, particularly within the province of a state," he said. Hammer and Smelt's attorney, Richard Gilbert, said his clients would appeal Taylor's decision to the ninth U.S. circuit court of appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gilbert compared the men's struggle to efforts by Dred Scott to seek freedom from slavery in 1857. The ruling in that case that Scott did not have standing to sue because he was property has been a lasting blemish on the nation's highest court. "If the justices of the ninth circuit or the Supreme Court were to rule against these plaintiffs, they will leave a legacy for themselves not much different from the justices of the Dred Scott court," Gilbert said. "The fact that they may not rule in our favor is not a reason not to force them to address the issue." California recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman. The federal Defense of Marriage Act allows states to disregard same-sex marriages performed in other states and foreign countries and holds that for federal purposes such as Social Security, marriage is "a legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife." Nearly all efforts to legalize same-sex marriage are being fought in state courts around the country. Last year a group of gay couples in Florida decided to drop lawsuits similar to that of Hammer and Smelt after a federal judge there dismissed their claim challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. (AP)

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