Attorney General Eric Holder sent House Speaker John Boehner a letter today to inform him that the Department of Justice will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a challenge brought by current and former active duty members of the United States military. In the lawsuit, the litigants seek various federal benefits for their same -sex spouses — medical and dental insurance, basic housing allowances, visitation rights in military hospitals and survivor benefits.
The decision is consistent with a letter Holder sent last February announcing that the executive branch had determined DOMA is unconstitutional as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law. At the time Boehner had hired outside counsel to defend the federal statute that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Holder explains in the current letter that the plaintiffs in the case are challenging DOMA and additional statutory provisions that might affect the eligibility of same-sex couples for military and veterans’ benefits. He says that DOJ supports Congress’ having a “full and fair” opportunity to defend the law. The House of Representatives has already hired lawyer Paul Clement to defend DOMA in other challenges brought against the law.