January 14, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Obama continues to defend DOMA in court

The U.S. Justice Department continued to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court late Thursday by filing a brief in a U.S. appellate court affirming the constitutionality of the statute.

“Congress’ decision to enact DOMA was not unconstitutional under the Court’s binding precedent,” states the brief. “With respect to the Gill plaintiffs’ equal protection challenge and Massachusetts’ Spending Clause unconstitutional condition challenge, DOMA is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests.”

The 39-page brief was issued in response to two lawsuits against DOMA pending before the First Circuit Court of Appeals: Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services.

The Gill case was filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders while the Commonwealth case was filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. In July, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in favor of plaintiffs and the Justice Department appealed the decisions to the First Circuit.

In the brief, the Justice Department brief disputes the arguments in the lawsuits that DOMA violates the Equal Protection Clause under the U.S. Constitution or a state’s right under the Tenth Amendment to regulate 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,” the brief states.

Passed in 1996, DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. The lawsuits pending before the First Circuit specifically target the section of DOMA prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Mary Bonauto, who’s leading the DOMA team for GLAD, said she finds “nothing really new in this brief, which reiterates many of the same arguments the government made in the District Court.”

“We’re prepared to meet these arguments head-on, and bring to an end the discrimination that is suffered by married same-sex couples like our plaintiffs and that DOJ has admitted is caused by DOMA,” Bonauto said.

The next step in the case is for GLAD and Coakley to file their response briefs, which are due March 1.

Many gay rights supporters have expressed frustration with the Obama administration’s continued to defense of DOMA in court. President Obama has called DOMA discriminatory and said it should be repealed legislatively, but his Justice Department has defended the statute against litigation.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called on Obama to support same-sex marriage and for his Justice Department to acknowledge that DOMA is unconstitutional.

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

Obama opposes marriage rights for gay couples, but has suggested that his position on the issue could change. In a news conference in December, the president said he’s “wrestling” with the idea of same-sex marriage.

Download a copy of the Justice Department brief here.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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