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U.S. Bankruptcy Court Declares DOMA Unconstitutional

Jim Burroway

June 14th, 2011

When Gene Douglas Balas and Carlos A. Morales, a married couple in California, tried to file a joint bankruptcy petition, the U.S Trustee in the case moved to dismiss the case because the couple were both males, and thus didn’t qualify for a joint bankruptcy filing because of DOMA. The judge was skeptical. “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,” Judge Thomas B. Donovan said.

Because the case was filed after Attorney General Eric Holder revealed that the Justice Department would not defend DOMA under a rational basis test, the bankruptcy court forwarded to case to the U.S House of Representatives’ Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which is defending the Defense of Marriage Act in several other cases. But the BLAG chose not to respond, leaving the bankruptcy court to conclude:

This court cannot conclude from the evidence or the record in this case that any valid governmental interest is advanced by DOMA as applied to the Debtors. Debtors have urged that recent governmental defenses of the statute assert that DOMA also serves such interests as “preserving the status quo,” “eliminating inconsistencies and easing administrative burdens” of the government. None of these post hoc defenses of DOMA withstands heightened scrutiny. In the court’s final analysis, the government’s only basis for supporting DOMA comes down to an apparent belief that the moral views of the majority may properly be enacted as the law of the land in regard to state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in disregard of the personal status and living conditions of a significant segment of our pluralistic society. Such a view is not consistent with the evidence or the law as embodied in the Fifth Amendment with respect to the thoughts expressed in this decision. The court has no doubt about its conclusion: the Debtors have made their case persuasively that DOMA deprives them of the equal protection of the law to which they are entitled.

One more nail in the coffin…

[Timothy: This ruling was not signed solely by Judge Donovan, but by twenty of the twenty-five judges who serve the Central California Division (Los Angeles) of the US Bankruptcy Court. In my employment, I’ve worked with a number of these judges and they are very diverse in temperament and perspective. It is rather amazing to get this level of agreement.]



Stefano A
June 14th, 2011 | LINK

Interesting, the Metro Weekly article is the second bankruptcy news article to hit today. In another California case, the Sacramento Bee reported on Brenda and Lynda Ziviello-Howell, who married in Sacramento in June 2008, who filed for joint bankruptcy and were denied by the US Trustee, which handles such cases.

Likewise, the bankruptcy court, finding the women were legally married, while declining to address the constitutional issue, overrode the US Trustee and ruled that their bankruptcy could go forward as spouses in a joint bankruptcy.

This couple, represented by Chico attorney Joe Feist, have also filed a lawsuit challenging DOMA.

June 14th, 2011 | LINK

drip, drip, drip…

June 14th, 2011 | LINK

Weare beginning to see the DOMA gnawed away, legally, piece by piece by piece, until nothing will be left of it to defend. That will be a great day for our justice system. Just a matter of time… thankfully.

June 14th, 2011 | LINK

Wow! Never saw THAT coming.

I wonder what(I am a Federal Tax Attorney) Michele Bachmann has to say about this?

@Dakotahgeo, thanks for helping me diffuse the illogical arguments on the CP, and RD blogs. I think I still have your email address, if not, here’s mine; We should indeed talk…

Timothy Kincaid
June 14th, 2011 | LINK

What we are seeing is a society that is coming to realize the existence of gay people – as such – and recognize our relationships as similar to their own. And once you take that step, then it is actually an annoyance and irritation to treat gay couples differently.

While I’m certain that the judges who signed this order did so out of sincere belief in the Fifth Amendment, I’m also sure that part of their decision was a desire to simplify the process. It’s much less paperwork, fewer hearings, less administration to just treat all married couples the same. And Judge Donovan is a busy man; he doesn’t have time to deal with stupid “are they married or aren’t they” hearings.

Regan DuCasse
June 14th, 2011 | LINK

I think there are times when most people can be reminded that the war on gay people IS expensive and not worth the energy and expense it’s taken to wage it. Gay people obviously are part of the tax base, who also have to vote on fiscal issues that effect everyone and are essentially law abiding.

That going on the offensive against gay people requires engaging them to the extent of higher visibility and outreach which wouldn’t occur, were gay folks mainstreamed and fully participating in everything other people do legally every day.
The people who donated heavily to support Prop. 8 surely have to ask themselves, while gay people were stopped from marrying, did it do anything to prevent divorces or domestic violence or the economy downturn in their own lives? Anyone’s?

Even while we’re engage in two wars, and need to have soldiers posted in other parts of the world, why were competent and willing gay soldiers discharged?
Which was very costly and posed a security risk?

Perhaps really seeing that it costs more than it’s worth to attack gay people, while at the same time, confront anti gay orgs with whether they are doing anything that truly helps marriage or children or families OTHER than attacking gay people would be the point.
Courts have better things to do too than to try and defend the folly of the anti gay.

June 15th, 2011 | LINK

Mr. Kincaid, you are correct. We have found most judges (even the most conservative ones) and government entities we have dealt with in the last 27 years want the simplest and quickest solution. Ohio’s anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment and DOMA just gummed up the works in many areas. It took us a while to understand the looks and attitudes we would get from government workers to a sitting judge was not discrimination, but more of a “Oh crap, more paperwork with these guys.”

Ben M
June 15th, 2011 | LINK

CA is a Community property state, which, I assume, would make handling these as separate bankruptcy cases even more complected.

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