“This is huge, folks,” states gay WP reporter Jonathan Capehart. “By definitively stating that gay men and lesbians deserve heightened scrutiny, the Obama administration is declaring that there is no government interest in perpetuating the discrimination aggrieved parties are trying to redress.”
The Department of Justice released a statement on the president’s decision earlier today:
“Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA. The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. Congress has repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Several lower courts have ruled DOMA itself to be unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA will continue to remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or there is a final judicial finding that strikes it down, and the President has informed me that the Executive Branch will continue to enforce the law. But while both the wisdom and the legality of Section 3 of DOMA will continue to be the subject of both extensive litigation and public debate, this Administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court.”
DOMA was passed by Congress in 1996 and “denies married same-sex couples over 1,000 rights, benefits and responsibilities tied to marriage under federal law. These include Social Security survivors’ benefits, family and medical leave, equal compensation as federal employees, and immigration rights, among many others,” states HRC.
DOMA has been under attack and legally challenged by LGBT legal groups for many years. The Department of Justice, under Obama, has been defending DOMA against these challenges.
A federal judge in Boston in July ruled portions of DOMA are unconstitutional.
Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, issued this statement:
“Freedom to Marry applauds the President and the Attorney General for acknowledging that sexual orientation discrimination has no place in American life and must be presumed unconstitutional, recognizing that discriminatory laws like so-called DOMA must be looked at with skeptical eyes, not rubber stamped.
“The Administration today acknowledges that there is no legitimate reason for this discrimination and therefore it cannot be defended under the Constitution. This a momentous step forward toward Freedom to Marry’s goal of ending federal marriage discrimination and fully protecting all loving and committed couples.”
Lambda Legal issued the following statement from Legal Director Jon Davidson:
“This is a monumental turning point in the history of the quest for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The President and the Attorney General recognized today what we have been saying in court since the day we opened our doors: Discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation should be presumed to be unconstitutional and unconstitutional laws should not be defended. It is past time for DOMA to become only an ugly part of our nation’s history.
“We are proud of our part in the precedent setting cases leading to today’s announcement. Both Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas are landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases litigated by Lambda Legal that established among other things that the equal protection guarantee in the federal Constitutional applies to gay people. The Attorney General expressly relied on these cases in his letter to Congress explaining why laws discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation are suspect and that the so-called DOMA is unconstitutional.
“While the so-called DOMA is very clearly crumbling it is not yet gone. The executive branch will continue to enforce it until it is repealed by Congress or struck down by the courts. We will continue our efforts to dismantle this law, along with all other laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation. Today’s action by the President and the Department of Justice hastens the day when those laws will no longer stain our nation.”
Attorney General Eric Holder sent House Speaker John Boehner a letter today outlining the administration’s position. Read below:
Top photo: President Barack Obama (official photo)