Federal judge dismisses Defense of Marriage Act challenge on jurisdictional grounds

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Central District Court of California [official website] dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit [case materials] challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text] on judisdictional grounds Tuesday. The suit, filed by Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, two men who were married in California, alleges that DOMA violates the Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause, their constitutional right to travel, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, their right to free speech, their right to privacy, and their rights under the Ninth Amendment [texts]. The judge ruled that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case because, although the case was removed [28 USC § 1442 text] from state court to federal court, the federal court's jurisdiction is only as great as that of the state court in which the case was originally filed. Since an individual cannot sue the federal government in a state court without the federal government's permission, the state court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and therefore the federal court did as well, the judge reasoned. The US Department of Justice [official website] opposed the suit [JURIST report] despite its belief that DOMA is discriminatory, stating that the DOJ could not choose only to enforce the laws with which it agreed. The couple is expected to refile [AP report] the case in federal court, which will then have subject matter jurisdiction.

Last month, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official profile] filed a suit challenging [JURIST report] DOMA on the grounds that it interferes with the state's right to define and regulate marriage. In March, a group of Massachusetts plaintiffs who are or have been married under the state's same-sex marriage law filed a similar lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging DOMA. Although Maine became the fifth state to allow same-sex marriages [JURIST report] in May, the Stand for Marriage Maine coalition [advocacy website] announced last month that they have collected more than the requisite 55,087 signatures [press release] needed to put a veto on the November ballot, allowing voters to decide on the law. Also in July, a Washington, DC law took effect [JURIST report] that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions. Currently, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa [JURIST reports] all allow same-sex marriage.

 

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