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Defense of Marriage Act: Obama administration will no longer defend legality of measure

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The White House says President Barack Obama is "grappling" with his personal views on gay marriage even as he's ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of a law that bans it. (Feb. 23)

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Compiled by Ian Saleh
Washington Post Staff
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 5:21 PM

The Obama administration will no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as Jerry Markon, Ed O'Keefe and Sandhya Somashekhar reported:

The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of the federal government's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages, a rare legal reversal and the latest in a series of political victories for gay rights activists.

The Justice Department had appealed the decision of a federal judge in Massachusetts who struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in July, saying it was obligated to defend federal statutes. The 1996 law defines marriage from the federal perspective as between a man and a woman, which means same-sex married couples are denied access to marriage-based federal benefits.

In an extraordinary change, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday that he and President Obama had determined - after an extensive review - that the law's key section is unconstitutional. "Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute" in court, Holder said in a statement.

Administration officials said the review was triggered by a court-imposed filing deadline in two new legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, filed in federal courts in New York and Connecticut.

This is latest in a string of victories for gay rights advocates, as Ed O'Keefe explained:

The Obama administration's decision to no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act adds to a growing list of victories for gay rights groups that have sought changes to how the federal government treats gay men and lesbians through a series of executive actions and legislation.

We've reviewed this growing list of changes before, but it's worth a refresher:

May 24, 2009: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announces plans to extend a series of benefits to the same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats working abroad, including diplomatic passports, relocation assistance, use of embassy medical facilities, and inclusion in emergency evacuations from posts abroad.

June 17, 2009: President Obama signs a memo extending fringe benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal employees and announces his support for legislation that would extend all benefits to them. The legislation has yet to pass.

The White House continued to assert that President Obama is "grappling" with the issue, as AP reported:

The White House says President Barack Obama is "grappling" with his personal views on gay marriage even as he's ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of a law that bans it.

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that, at Obama's direction, it would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in a court case where it's being challenged.

Spokesman Jay Carney said Obama has always opposed the Defense of Marriage Act as "unnecessary and unfair." But Carney said there's no change to how Obama views gay marriage itself.

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