February 23, 2011
Obama: DOMA Unconstitutional; Justice Dept. Reverses Course
President Obama has decided that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and has asked his Justice Department to stop defending it in court. DOMA defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The Justice Department just released the following statement from Attorney General Eric Holder:
After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.
Update: In December 2010, Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell," a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. During his campaign, Obama supported the repeal of DOMA, a bill that President Clinton had signed into law in 1996. In October, Obama said his views on same-sex marriage were evolving.
The New York Times reports on how the development to reverse course took place.
The decision to change position grew out of an internal administration policy argument, first reported by The New York Times in January, over how to respond to two lawsuits filed late last year in New York.
Citing an executive-branch duty to defend acts of Congress when plausible arguments exist that they are constitutional, the Obama administration had previously argued that legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act should be dismissed.