Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday the Obama administration will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court on the grounds that it considers the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Attorney General Holder stated in a letter to Congress, “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.” DOMA defines marriage as between one man and one woman and denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages, as well as the legal benefits attached to marriage, including Social Security survivors’ benefits, family and medical leave, and immigration rights.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, stated, “This is a monumental decision for the thousands of same-sex couples and their families who want nothing more than the same rights and dignity afforded to other married couples. As the President has stated previously, DOMA unfairly discriminates against Americans and we applaud him for fulfilling his oath to defend critical constitutional principles.”
The federal law banning same-sex marriage nevertheless remains in place, Currently, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington DC allow marriage of same-sex couples. Six states, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii allow same-sex couples to form civil unions or domestic partnerships, which carry many of the benefits of marriage. Governor Neil Abercrombie just signed the Hawaii civil union legislation into law.
DOMA was passed in 1996. In July 2009, Massachusetts became the first state to challenge the constitutionality of DOMA in a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Martha Coakley. A second suit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, was filed in July 2009 on behalf of seven gay and lesbian married couples and three widowers by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. In that case, Federal Judge Joseph Tauro agreed that DOMA violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.