The Obama administration said Wednesday that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and the Justice Department will no longer support it. The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law defining marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner stating, "Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ... as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment."
"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," Holder wrote.
According to the letter, President Obama made his decision after he reviewed two cases in federal appeals courts and found them to be in violation of the Constitution. In light of a "documented history of discrimination," among other factors, Obama concluded that discriminatory treatment based on sexual orientation should be "subject to a heightened standard of scrutiny," which the Defense of Marriage Act does not meet.
Holder said the administration was obligated to continue enforcing the law until it was appealed or overturned by a court that delivers a "definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality."
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), the ranking Democrat on the House Constitution Subcommittee, noted the historical significance of the announcement.
"This marks the first time that the federal government has recognized that a law designed to harm LGBT Americans and their families cannot be justified," Nadler said. "I commend Attorney General Holder and President Obama for their leadership, integrity and courage."
Nadler also said he would be reintroducing his legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act to "ensure that committed, loving couples can rely upon the legal responsibilities and security that come with the time-honored tradition of marriage."
Same-sex marriage is currently legal only in the states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. Some other states allow civil unions, but do not recognize married couples.