Federal Court Upholds the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and Rejects Massachusetts Same-Sex Marriage in Florida

Jan 19, 2005

Tampa, FL – Today, in Wilson v. Ake, Tampa federal Judge James Moody, Jr. dismissed a challenge to Florida’s marriage laws, upheld the constitutionality of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), and rejected the attempt to extend a Massachusetts same-sex marriage to Florida. This is the first case to uphold the Federal DOMA against a same-sex marriage challenge. Liberty Counsel filed to intervene in this case on behalf of several interested parties.

The Federal DOMA, passed by Congress in 1996, provides that one state does not have to recognize an out-of-state, same-sex marriage. In upholding the DOMA, the court wrote, “Florida is not required to recognize or apply Massachusetts’ same-sex marriage law because it clearly conflicts with Florida’s legitimate public policy of opposing same-sex marriage.” “Adopting Plaintiffs’ rigid and literal interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit would create a license for a single State to create national policy.”

The court noted that in Baker v. Nelson, the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1971 rejected same-sex marriage. When this case was appealed, the U. S. Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of a substantial federal question. The question after Baker is whether it is binding precedential authority. Judge Moody stated, “A dismissal for lack of a substantial federal question constitutes an adjudication on the merits that is binding on lower federal courts.” In other words, when the Supreme Court rejected the Baker decision for lack of presenting a substantial federal question, it also rejected the claim that prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the First, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Thus, Baker stands for the proposition that there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Judge Moody also rejected the federal Due Process claim, stating that “no federal court has recognized that this right includes the right to marry a person of the same sex.” The Wilson case also stated that the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas cannot be read as creating a fundamental right to same-sex marriage. Judge Moody expressly found that the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence “was explicitly clear that its holding did not extend to same-sex marriage.

The Wilson decision also found that “homosexuality is not a suspect class that would require subjecting DOMA to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.” The court found that the Federal DOMA was presumed constitutional and the burden was on the plaintiff to negate “every conceivable basis which might support [the legislation], whether or not the basis has a foundation in the record.” The court accepted the government’s position that heterosexual marriage relationships are optimal for procreation and stable families.

Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, stated, “The decision to uphold traditional marriage is a common sense ruling. There is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Although the court upheld the Defense of Marriage Act, we still need a federal constitutional amendment so that we don’t have to scour the wire services hour by hour to determine whether our marriage laws remain intact. Marriage is a fundamental basis of our society, and it must be preserved and stabilized once and for all through the passage of a constitutional amendment.”