What Massachusetts means

Elena Kagan: She’s no John Paul Stevens, but she does dislike discrimination.

Elena Kagan: She’s no John Paul Stevens, but she does dislike discrimination.

Last week, a federal court in Massachusetts ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it infringes on the right of the state to treat all marriages equally.

In a separate case, the same court ruled that in the case of individual married and widowed Massachusetts residents, DOMA violated their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law by denying them Social Security survivors benefits and the right to file joint tax returns, among other things.

That’s a big deal. The argument about equal protection is the one most frequently used in these cases, but the ol’ 10th Amendment—also sometimes called the “states’ rights”—argument, a current favorite of tea partiers everywhere, is most often used by those railing against the supposed tyranny of the federal government.

With the decision due any day from a federal court in San Francisco on Perry v. Schwarzenegger, what exactly does this mean?

Well, it does set a precedent for ruling discrimination against gays unconstitutional. And it means that all these cases are probably headed to the Supreme Court—which also means that the makeup of that court is going to be important. Frankly, I don’t think Elena Kagan is really a replacement for John Paul Stevens, and she has said that she doesn’t think there’s a clear constitutional right to marriage equality. But she does dislike discrimination, which is a big plus.

Frankly, I think it’s all going to come down to Anthony Kennedy—who is from Sacramento. He’s also spent a lot of time studying international law.

Of course, what it means right now is that the Obama administration has to figure out how hard they’re going to fight this. It’s a very political decision; while the president is on record as believing DOMA should be repealed, he’s also pretty clearly not in favor of marriage equality.

But it is a big move in the right direction.

Compiled from Kel’s Hot Flash.