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Court denounces DOMA in same-sex joint bankruptcy filing

Bankruptcy is something that many people who are facing extreme debt or foreclosure consider. Under the Bankruptcy Code, individuals who are married are allowed to file for bankruptcy protection together. However, in a recent case, a legally married same-sex couple attempted to file for joint Chapter 13 bankruptcy after their finances were plagued by medical debt and unemployment, but they were rejected by the U.S. trustee's office.

The pair was married in California before the passage of Proposition 8, meaning their marriage is still recognized by the state. But a branch of the Justice Department recommended that their filing be dismissed because they were not considered married under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which recognizes marriage as being between a man and a woman only.

Despite the trustee's office's recommendation for dismissal, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California ruled that DOMA had no legitimate standing and was a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution. A clause in the Fifth Amendment protects the rights of all debtors equally, no matter their sex, gender or race. The judges submitted a 24-page decision that stated that a joint bankruptcy filing by a same-sex couple would in no way affect the lives of heterosexual individuals.

Twenty judges in the California court agreed to this decision, which some say could be very significant for other cases across the country that involve DOMA. Because Washington, D.C., allows same-sex marriage, this case could have a significant impact on the bankruptcy proceedings that happen in this jurisdiction.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Bankruptcy Court Declares DOMA Unconstitutional," Patrick Fitzgerald, 14 June 2011

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