Monday, June 13, 2011

(Another) Federal Court finds against DOMA

No, not that one! Another case, not Prop8, in which a US Bankruptcy Court rules DOMA unconstitutional. Here's a case from CA where a married gay couple wanted to file bankruptcy, and went to court because they were not afforded the same treatment as a straight couple would be. The US Trustee opposed them. As the brief for the decision says,
As the Debtors state, “[T]he only issue in this Bankruptcy Case is whether some legally married couples are entitled to fewer rights than other legally married couples, based solely on a factor (the gender and/or sexual orientation of the parties in the union) that finds no support in the Bankruptcy Code or Rules and should be a constitutional irrelevancy.” Debtors’ Opp. 5:24–28. In this court’s judgment, no legally married couple should be entitled to fewer bankruptcy rights than any other legally married couple
The brief cites Att. Gen. Holder's letter that DOMA is unconstitutional. It cites the evidence from Perry v. Schwarzeneggar (the Prop8 federal case). It summarizes the arguments against equality clearly, finding the following reasons insufficient:
  • Defending or nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage(the Debtors are already married to each other, and allowing them to proceed jointly in this bankruptcy case cannot have the slightest cognizable effect on anyone else’s marriage);
  • Defending traditional notions of morality (the Debtors’ joint bankruptcy filing is in no sense discernible to the court to be a validly challengeable affront to morality, traditional or otherwise, under the Fifth Amendment); or
  • Preserving scarce resources (no governmental resources are implicated by the Debtors’ bankruptcy case different from the resources brought to bear routinely in thousands upon thousands of joint bankruptcy cases filed over the years).
Accordingly, the Judge finds,
The Debtors have demonstrated that DOMA violates their equal protection rights afforded under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, either under heightened scrutiny or under rational basis review. Debtors also have demonstrated that there is no valid governmental basis for DOMA. In the end, the court finds that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of the Debtors as recognized under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.No one expressed the Debtors’ view as pertinent to this simple bankruptcy case more eloquently and profoundly than Justice William O. Douglas in the concluding paragraph of his opinion for the majority in Griswold v. Connecticut
, 381 U.S. 479, 486(1965):
We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not in political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects.Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.
Upon consideration of the pleadings and all other materials filed in this case, andfor good cause shown, the court finds that the Debtors satisfy every legal requirement to pursue their joint petition as filed pursuant to § 302(a). For the reasons stated herein and in the Debtors’ Opposition to the Motion and Debtors’ supporting authorities, the Motion to Dismiss Debtors’ chapter 13 case based on § 1307(c) is denied.


JCF said...

Actually, IT, this decision is not related to the story I posted today. Instead, it was from a gay male couple in SoCal (I guess it's not surprising in this day and age: so many {me, me!} are interested in bankruptcy :-( )

IT said...

JCF the SacBee link you published in the thread below was indeed to a different bankruptcy case. My bad!

Jarred said...

Judge Ware has ruled that Judge Walker did not have to recuse himself. YES!!!!!

Jim Pratt said...

The decision references two other bankruptcy courts (Sacramento and Manhattan) that have reached the same conclusion.

What is significant is that 20 judges signed the opinion, instead of just the single judge who heard the case. Bankruptcy judges are not constitutional law experts, but they know a clear constitutional principle when they see it.

With DoJ taking a hands-off approach, DOMA will die a death of 1000 cuts like this one. It may never be repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court, but it will be ignored.

IT said...

Another your from the decision :

Although individual members of Congress have every right to express their views and the views of their constituents with respect to their religious beliefs and principles and their personal standards of who may marry whom," the decision said, this court cannot conclude that Congress is entitled to solemnize such views in the laws of this nation in disregard of the views, legal status and living arrangements of a significant segment of our citzenry that includes the debtors in this case."