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Turning point? Obama won’t defend Defense of Marriage Act

President Obama's administration announced it would no longer defend DOMA in court

President Obama’s administration made a blockbuster announcement Feb. 23, saying it has concluded that one part of the Defense of Marriage Act will not be able to pass constitutional muster in the 2nd Circuit and the Department of Justice would not defend that part of the law in two pending cases in that circuit.

“The president and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner.

The decision does not automatically overturn DOMA and does not mean that gay couples will now receive the federal benefits of marriage. The law still has to be repealed by Congress, which is unlikely in the near future, or struck down as unconstitutional by the courts.

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Obama DOMA decision could have major impact

Speaker of the House John Boehner expects the House to defend DOMA in court

Political decisions are a lot like oceanic earthquakes. First, there’s the quake, and then there’s the wave. Nobody can tell just how significant the wave is until it reaches land. Sometimes, the wave has greater impact than the earthquake; sometimes, it’s just a swell.

So it is with the decision by the Obama Department of Justice to call the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The news was a political earthquake for the LGBT community. Now, there’s the wait-and-see for how big an impact the announcement will have.

In this case, there are two waves to watch for: the legal and the political.

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DOMA: Reaction from the left and right

Left

“This is a monumental turning point in the history of the quest for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

Jon Davidson, Lambda Legal, Defense & Education Fund

“The president’s leadership on this issue has forever changed the landscape for LGBT people in this country … This is the beginning of the end, not just for the mean-spirited and indefensible Defense of Marriage Act, but for the entire panoply of laws that discriminate against same-sex couples.”

Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights

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NOM continues to be a thorn in the side of marriage equality

National Organization for Marriage President Brian BrownThe anti-gay National Organization for Marriage blasted the Obama administration's monumental decision to refuse to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court after it determined the law unconstitutional.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that the Department of Justice would not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in two cases where that section of the law is currently under challenge. Section 3 classifies a "marriage" as a union between a man and a woman and a "spouse" as an opposite-sex person.

Brian Brown, NOM's president, called on the U.S. House of Representatives to “intervene to protect DOMA, and to tell the Obama administration they have to respect the limits on their power.”

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Update: Obama won’t defend law banning federal recognition of gay marriage

The Obama administration made a blockbuster announcement Wednesday, saying it has concluded that one part of the Defense of Marriage Act will not be able to pass constitutional muster in the 2nd Circuit and that DOJ would not defend that part of the law in two pending cases in that circuit.

It was a dramatic, unexpected, and significant move by the Obama administration and one that could trigger maneuvers by DOMA supporters to appoint an intervenor to defend the law. But beyond the eventual legal consequences of the announcement, the political impact was characterized by most LGBT leaders as historic and monumental.

“This is a monumental turning point in the history of the quest for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.