A few weeks prior to New York's historic law allowing same-sex couples to marry, California's Central District Bankruptcy Court ruled that Gene Balas and Carlos Morales could file a joint petition for bankruptcy. The gay couple had wed in 2008, during the brief period when gay marriages were legal in California. (Six months later, Proposition 8 outlawed same sex marriages in the state.)

The couple cited health problems and financial pressures as the reasons for their having to bankruptcy. According to Morales, "All the property that either of us owns is community property, and all of our debts are community debts."

The ruling, signed by an overwhelming majority of Central California bankruptcy judges (20 out of 24), was also the latest challenge to the constitutionality of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act. The Central District Bankruptcy judges concluded that the DOMA violated the couple's equal protection guarantees. Judge Thomas B. Donovan's majority opinion said that "In this court's judgment, no legally married couple should be entitled to fewer bankruptcy rights than any other legally married couple."

The Bankruptcy courts of Northern California (which covers, among other places, people who file for bankruptcy who live in San Francisco, Daly City, Pacifica, South San Francisco, San Mateo, Oakland, San Jose, and Santa Rosa) recently wrote on its website that the Balas and Morales decision was not binding in their jurisdiction because it was decided in a court of equal rank rather than a superior court.

Allan H. Rosenthal
Paralegal, Bankruptcy Center of John D. Raymond