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Bankruptcy Court declares Defense of Marriage Act invalid

June 14, 2011 | 12:24 pm

Employees of Albertson's supermarkets participate during the LA PRIDE parade on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood on Sunday

The largest bankruptcy court in the country has declared the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act a violation of the Constitution's equal protection guarantee.

The decision signed by 20 judges of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California is the first bankruptcy court to address the constitutionality of the law passed by Congress 15 years ago which prohibits federal government recognition of same-sex marriage. The decision came in a case in which a legally married gay couple was seeking to jointly file for bankruptcy. 

The ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas A. Donovan in Los Angeles adds weight to decisions by a federal judge in Boston a year ago that the law amounts to discrimination against legally married gay couples and is therefore invalid.

In rejecting the federal trustee's motion to dismiss the bankruptcy petition of Gene Balas and Carlos Morales, Donovan said the court "discerns no valid, defensible governmental interest" in denying the couple's bankruptcy filing just because the petitioners are gay.

Attorney Robert Pfister, who argued the case on behalf of Balas and Morales last month, said the federal government trustee may appeal Donovan's ruling to give Congress the opportunity to defend its legislation in court.

However, the U.S. House of Representatives' legal counsel had asked for, and had been granted, additional time to defend the law before Donovan but never followed through with any legal argument, the court noted in its Monday ruling.


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-- Carol J. Williams

Photo: Employees of Albertson's supermarkets participate in L.A. Pride parade on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood on Sunday. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times