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Justice Dept. appeals rulings that struck down DOMA. HRC to Obama: Support same-sex marriage now

The Human Rights Campaign called on President Barack Obama Jan. 13 to
abandon his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Obama has said he supports civil unions for gays but thinks marriage is
for straight couples. But he also has said his thinking on the issue is
“evolving” and “it’s pretty clear where the trendlines are going.”

As such, “it’s time for him to help lead the American public toward full
equality for all Americans,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “We ask him
to fully recognize the dignity of LGBT Americans and their families by
supporting marriage equality.”

Solmonese’s exhortation came as the Justice Department appealed two
federal court rulings from last July that struck down as unconstitutional
the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevents the federal
government from recognizing states’ same-sex marriages.

The section states: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or
of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative
bureaus and agencies of the United 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 other section, which gives states cover to refuse to recognize other
states’ same-sex marriages, was not targeted in the lawsuits.)

The administration has said it has a duty to defend U.S. laws — including
those such as DOMA that the president opposes. HRC disputed that claim and
urged the Justice Department to “at the very least … acknowledge that
(DOMA) is unconstitutional.”

In its appeal to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the government
argues: ” … DOMA is rationally related to legitimate governmental
interests. Congress passed DOMA in 1996, at a time when states and their
citizens were just beginning to address the issue of marriage rights for
same-sex couples. Since that time, some states have enacted statutes or
issued court decisions that permit same-sex couples to marry, and other
states have promulgated statutes or constitutional amendments that define
marriage as between a man and a woman. Other states do not allow same-sex
couples to marry under their own laws, but nonetheless recognize same-sex
marriages from other states. DOMA, which implicates over 1000 federal
laws, reflects Congress’s reasonable response to this still-evolving
debate among the states regarding same-sex marriage. The Constitution
permitted Congress to enact DOMA as a means to preserve the status quo,
ensure consistency in the distribution of federal marriage-based benefits,
and respect policy developments in the states without implicating other
states or the United States, pending the resolution of the debate taking
place in the states over whether to permit same-sex marriage.”

In striking down DOMA, the federal District Court in Boston ruled that it
violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution by treating married gay couples differently from married
straight couples without any rational basis for doing so, violates the
10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by intruding in areas of exclusive
state authority, and violates the Spending Clause in Article 1 of the
Constitution by forcing Massachusetts to discriminate against its married
gay citizens in order to receive certain types of federal funding.

The government’s appeal disputes all three determinations.

In 1996, when Obama was running for the Illinois Senate, he told the
Chicago gay newspaper Windy City Times that he favored legalizing same-sex
marriage, but since that time he has expressed support only for civil
unions for same-sex couples. Very recently, however, he has suggested that
his feelings on the matter may be in flux.

In December, he told The Advocate: “My attitudes are evolving on this. I
have always firmly believed in having a robust civil union that provides
the rights and benefits under the law that marriage does. I’ve wrestled
with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation.
But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian
couples. And squaring that circle is something that I have not done yet,
but I’m continually asking myself this question, and I do think that — I
will make this observation, that I notice there is a big generational
difference. When you talk to people who are in their 20s, they don’t
understand what the holdup is on this, regardless of their own sexual
orientation.”

He made similar remarks to gay blogger Joe Sudbay last October.

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