President Obama stopped legally defending a federal law defining marriage between a man and a woman more than a year ago.
While today President Obama made clear his personal view on gay marriage, more than a year ago he announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
In February 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner saying, “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. ”
Section 3 of the law reads in part: “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
Boehner, on behalf of the House of Representatives, then hired Paul Clement to defend the law in 15 pending cases across the country.
Most recently, on April 4, for the first time, a federal appeals court in Boston heard a challenge to DOMA brought by seven married and widowed same-sex couples. They argue the law prevents them from accessing federal spousal protections.
“To be clear,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery told the court, “the direction from the president and the attorney general has been that the department will cease defending section 3 of DOMA under any basis. I’m not here to defend it under any standard.”
Last October, in an exclusive interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, President Obama predicted that the issue of gay marriage would eventually land at the Supreme Court.
“And you know,” Obama told George, “it’s going to be decided in the courts, probably–in the next few terms.”