Justice Department won’t defend marriage law
The White House has ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the controversial Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Originally written by opponents of same-sex unions, the law defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife”.
The law was enacted in 1996, and was overwhelmingly voted through the Senate and the House. Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement that explained why the president has decided to review the law.
“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 statement read.
Obama’s views of gay marriage “evolving”
White House press secretary Jay Carney explained that the president’s opinion of same-sex marriage is not related to the administration’s decision. Obama had initially supported gay marriage, but during the 2008 presidential campaign, he had officially opposed it. Recently, he has described his views on the issue as “evolving”.
Although Obama was against to DOMA and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which denied gay men and women from serving openly in the military, the Justice Department was still obligated to defend those laws. According to the president, it was more important to uphold the existing laws of the government than to avoid discrimination against gays and lesbians.
However, as the gay population are influential in the Democratic party, this move may be an effort to appeal to them ahead of a re-election bid next year.
Defense of Marriage Act still a law
The White House’s decision does not represent the final legal word on the issue of gay marriage, as the law would need to be brought before the Supreme Court. If the Court were to discard the marriage law, then the federal government would be required to offer the benefits granted to married heterosexuals, such as tax deductions, to married gay couples as well.