Another Dent in Doma

Attorney General Eric Holder letter of intent

On February 17, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner explaining that the Department of Justice would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in two pending federal court cases.

Currently, same-sex spouses of military personnel cannot receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples because of DOMA, which prevents the federal government (of which the military is a part) from recognizing gay and lesbian marriages.

“The legislative record of [the DOMA] provisions contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex couples of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans,” Holder wrote. “Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs identified any justifications for that distinction that would warrant treating these provisions differently from Section 3 of DOMA.”

Section 3 states “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.”

The recent letter reinforces the Obama Administration’s previous assertion, in February 2011, that the Department of Justice believed DOMA to be unconstitutional. “Classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened standard of constitutional scrutiny under equal protection principles,” wrote Holder at that time, “and that Section 3 of DOMA fails such scrutiny as applied to couples who are legally married under state law.”

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