Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter

(San Francisco, CA, February 23, 2011)—President Barack Obama has decided that the government should no longer defend Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which discriminates against legally married same-sex couples by providing that the federal government will not recognize their marriages for any purpose, according to a statement released today by the Attorney General of the United States.

The Attorney General explained the President has concluded that laws targeting people based on sexual orientation, like laws targeting people based on race or national origin, should receive more rigorous constitutional scrutiny. Based on the President’s conclusion, the Attorney General will no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA in court.

Section 3 of DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples for any purpose, even if those marriages are valid under the law of the state where the couple lives. Among other things, DOMA prevents married same-sex couples from receiving any of the federal benefits given to other married people. DOMA also sends a message that LGBTQ people and their families are inferior.

There are several ongoing cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Attorney General announced today that although the Department of Justice will continue to represent the government in those cases, Department of Justice attorneys will no longer argue that DOMA is constitutional, because DOMA does not withstand heightened constitutional scrutiny

read the Attorney General’s statement

read the Attorney General’s letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner

Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter:

“Today’s announcement is courageous and history-changing. It is also fully consistent with the practice of past Attorneys General, who have decided that some laws are so blatantly discriminatory that they cannot and should not be defended in court. The President and the Attorney General were absolutely correct to conclude that there can be no ‘reasonable defense’ of a law intended only to disadvantage and harm some families, while helping none. The President and the Attorney General were also right to conclude that because LGBTQ people have suffered a long history of discrimination in this country, laws that target people based on their sexual orientation are highly likely to be based on prejudice and should be presumptively considered unconstitutional.

“The President’s leadership on this issue has forever changed the landscape for LGBTQ people in this country. For the first time, the President and the Department of Justice have recognized that laws that harm same-sex couples cannot be justified. 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.”

read frequently asked questions about the decision

read NCLR’s blog about the decision

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.