President Barack Obama yesterday ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop the government's defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), declaring that he and the DOJ now believe the law to be unconstitutional. This decision is a major victory for the LGBT community.
Previously, the Administration had aggressively defended DOMA in the courts and today's announcement is a significant policy shift.
DOMA is a 15 year old law enacted during the Clinton Administration which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
LGBT groups and individuals have loudly criticized Obama for his slow movement in the gay rights arena during the first two years of his term. Now, in the past three months, the Administration has succeeded in passing a repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) and now is offering another major policy shift in instructing Attorney General Eric Holder to withdraw defense of DOMA.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday: "The president's personal view on same sex marriage ... that is distinct from this legal decision" and that Obama continues to grapple with the issue.
"The administration will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the Second Circuit," Carney said. "Furthermore, the president directed the attorney general not to defend, because of the decision that it is not constitutional, defend the Defense of Marriage Act in any other circuit in any other case."
In a letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Holder said that the Administration has determined that DOMA is unconstitutional and therefore the DOJ will no longer enforce its provisions.
Immediately affected will be cases in New York and Connecticut where Holder has ordered the DOJ attorneys to dismiss the defense actions by March 11, 2011.
Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) said yesterday "I applaud today's decision by the Justice Department to stand on the right side of history and end its support of the disgraceful Defense of Marriage Act. We have made great strides toward equality in recent months by repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and legalizing civil unions in Illinois, and today another blow has been struck against bigotry and discrimination. It is my hope that this momentum carries us to a full dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act and a new era of civil rights for every American."