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Bankruptcy Court Declares Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

June 22, 2011

Recently the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, the nation’s largest bankruptcy court, ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. In a decision signed by 20 judges, the court found that “there is no valid governmental basis for DOMA.” The case is In re: Balas and Morales, and can be read here.

The Balas case centers on a gay male couple in California who filed a joint Chapter 13 bankruptcy case seeking federal protection from their creditors as a married couple. Gene Balas and Carlos Morales were legally married in California in 2008 and are still legally married, despite the enactment of Proposition 8 in California. The Bankruptcy Code provides that any individual and his or her spouse may file a joint bankruptcy case. However, the U.S. Trustee’s office sought dismissal of the case, citing the Defense of Marriage Act which does not recognize same sex marriages.

The Central District of California Bankruptcy Court found that there is “no valid governmental basis for DOMA,” and that the law “violates the equal protection rights of the debtors as recognized under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.” The Obama administration has stated that it believes the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Constitution, and has reportedly ordered the Justice Department and bankruptcy trustees to stop defending the DOMA in court.

While other federal judges around the country have declared DOMA unconstitutional, this 20 judge signed opinion sends a clear and powerful message. This decision may have a far-reaching impact on similar cases in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal.

The federal law is not always clear, and is constantly changing. If you are struggling with debt and need bankruptcy assistance, get the help you need by consulting with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Your bankruptcy attorney can guide you through the bankruptcy process to a successful resolution. Call today and discover how the federal laws can work to your advantage. 

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