Obama Administration Stops Defending Defense of Marriage Act

     WASHINGTON (AP) - In a major policy reversal, the Obama
administration said Wednesday it will no longer defend the
constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of same-sex

      Attorney General Eric Holder said President Barack Obama has
concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law
that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted
that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of
Marriage Act "contains numerous expressions reflecting moral
disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family
relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and
animus" the Constitution is designed to guard against.

      The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now.

      The move quickly drew praise from some Democrats in Congress but
a sharp response from the spokesman for Republican John Boehner,
the House Speaker.

      "While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and
cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks
now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that
sharply divides the nation," said Boehner's spokesman Michael

      Gay groups, which had long pressured the administration to take
a step like this, were pleased. Ron Carey, executive director of
the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called the policy change
"a tremendous step toward recognizing our common humanity and
ending an egregious injustice against thousands of loving,
committed couples who simply want the protections, rights and
responsibilities afforded other married couples. We thank the Obama

      Obama's move may position him politically at the forefront of
rising public support for gay marriage. Polling results can vary
rather significantly depending on what words are used to describe
gay marriage, but there is a gradual trend in public opinion toward
more acceptance of gay marriage.

      An Associated Press-National Constitution Center Poll conducted
last August found 52 percent of Americans saying the federal
government should give legal recognition to marriages between
couples of the same sex, while 46 percent said it should not. In
polling by ABC News and the Washington Post, support for the
legalization of gay marriage has climbed from 37 percent in 2003 to
47 percent in February 2010.

      Holder's statement said, "Much of the legal landscape has
changed in the 15 years since Congress passed" the Defense of
Marriage Act. He noted that the Supreme Court has ruled that laws
criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional and that
Congress has repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell"

      At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said Obama himself is
still "grappling" with his personal view of gay marriage but has
always personally opposed the Defense of Marriage Act as
"unnecessary and unfair."

      The attorney general said the Justice Department had defended
the law in court until now because the government was able to
advance reasonable arguments for the law based on a less strict

      At a December news conference, in response to a reporters'
question, Obama revealed that his position on gay marriage is
"constantly evolving." He has opposed such marriages and
supported instead civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. The
president said such civil unions are his baseline - at this point,
as he put it.

      "This is something that we're going to continue to debate, and
I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward,"
he said.

      On Wednesday, Holder said the president has concluded that,
given a documented history of discrimination against gays,
classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a
more heightened standard of scrutiny than the department had been
applying in legal challenges to the act up to now.

      The attorney general said the department will immediately bring
the policy change to the attention of two federal courts now
hearing separate lawsuits targeting the Defense of Marriage Act.

      One case, in Connecticut, challenges the federal government's
denial of marriage-related protections for federal Family Medical
Leave Act benefits, federal laws for private pension plans and
federal laws concerning state pension plans. In the other case in
New york City, the federal government refused to recognize the
marriage of two women and taxed the inheritance that one of the
women left to the other as though the two were strangers. Under
federal tax law, a spouse who dies can leave her assets, including
the family home, to the other spouse without incurring estate

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