In late February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that following two years to the contrary, the Obama Administration no longer would defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court.
During his surprise announcement, Holder said that, following an examination of pending legal challenges, both he and President Barack Obama no longer believe the law is constitutional.
On February 23, Holder elaborated: “After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.”
DOMA was signed into law 15 years ago by President Bill Clinton, preventing the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions in any way. Not only that, the law actually penalizes couples who wed in states and countries where same-sex marriage is legal and/or recognized.
One of the very cases that led to the White House’s change of opinion, in fact, involves a lesbian widow who was forced to pay more than $360,000 in taxes after her wife died, which any heterosexual married couple would not be required to do.
All told, DOMA, according to a 1997 General Accounting Office report, prevents legally-married couples from receiving 1,049 federal benefits, rights, and privileges.
Following the surprise announcement, as one might expect, the Internet and social networks erupted with heaps of both praise and scorn alike.
Many in the gay and lesbian community unsurprisingly praised the President’s decision.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe Solmonese noted, “This is a monumental decision for the thousands of same-sex couples and their families who want nothing more than the same rights and dignity afforded to other married couples.”
The ever-audible antigay Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) called the President’s decision an “end run around our normal constitutional processes.”
While I’m certainly beyond a little elated to learn that the Obama Administration finally has decided to stop defending in court the federal DOMA—an act the President has stated he opposed even prior to his election—I’m afraid this is quite possibly just one more example of a politician using the gay and lesbian community as a political football.
I find it extremely hard to believe the very same administration that has played politics with more than one issue of fundamental equality for the GLBT community suddenly has found gay Jesus, and reversed its course.
You have to ask yourself: Why would an administration that, up until a couple months ago, actively defended legislation it claimed it opposed suddenly change its mind?
This administration, mind you, still actively is fighting an appeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This administration is led by a President who, according to his own press secretary, still is “grappling” with his personal views on the subject of same-sex marriage.
Sadly, Holder’s announcement comes across like one more awkward step in the administration’s continuing kabuki dance with the GLBT community
Michael Steele, spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner, questioned why Obama “thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation,” when “most Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending.”
First of all, Steele and Boehner need look no further for an answer than the various Republican-controlled state legislatures throughout the country that have opted to pursue constitutional same-sex marriage bans instead of “creating jobs.”
Still, I can’t help but wonder if setting up same-sex marriage to be a wedge issue in 2012 is any more desirable than it was in 2004.
Ultimately, I’d like to believe Obama believes gay and lesbian people are equal—that they should be allowed to marry, and enjoy the same rights, benefits, and privileges extended to every other American.
But that belief isn’t enough. Obama’s actions since taking office show that he’s willing to compromise his beliefs for political gain. Playing politics with people’s rights isn’t new, but it’s not what many expected from the “change” President.