Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No longer running defense

Quite a while ago, referring to another issue, my friend and debate partner said he was sure that Obama had to defend all laws, even those he didn't like. I'll only mention such an idea probably had little impact on the Bush Department of Justice before moving on.

The big news of today is that Obama has instructed his DoJ to no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. That's the part that says the federal government cannot recognize gay couples. Obama's reason is that section has been declared unconstitutional.

The law has been the target of court cases in Massachusetts, and up to this point the DoJ has defended DOMA on repeal. At the time Obama said the gov't need only have a rational reason for the law.

Now Obama is saying gov't needs a reason that passes heightened scrutiny to discriminate against gays. The government's interest in discrimination must be an important one and the remedy must be related to that interest. Since there is no such reason, Section 3 (as determined by a district court) is unconstitutional. Finally he is acting on his promises.

This does not mean DOMA is dead. The DoJ has notified Congress, which may choose to defend the statute. Obama is only stating what his DoJ will do. It will influence what a court does (in this case the 2nd Circuit), but the court still has to come up with its own ruling. And whatever a Circuit Court decides the underlying cases will go on to the Supremes.

Even so, there are significant political consequences to such a move. Civil union the same as marriage except in name? Not if federal benefits are denied. More analysis here.

Thank you Mr. President for doing the right thing. Alas, we're left wondering couldn't you have done the same with Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

The DoJ announcing that the defense of the law is up to Congress has prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein to introduce a bill to overturn the law. While we're all grateful for the show of support some are wondering why didn't she do this last year,

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