The Obama administration today delivered a massive victory to the LGBT movement, marking a historic turning point in how gay and lesbian Americans are treated by the government.
The Justice Department announced it will stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law signed by President Clinton that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “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. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases.”
Under that new “heightened scrutiny” test, Obama and his Justice Department view DOMA as unconstitutional. Obama has said this before and the news wasn’t entirely unexpected. But it’s no less dramatic.
The government’s assertion that a state seeking to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation must present a compelling interest — rather than a plausible reason — for such discrimination represents a major change in how our rights are viewed.
Obama has come under much fire by LGBT activists for his slow-go approach to change, but today’s announcement puts him squarely on the side of justice and restores his credentials as a “fierce advocate” of LGBT equality.