The Obama administration on Friday
filed a brief in federal court that said the Defense of Marriage Act
(DOMA) is unconstitutional. The 1996 law bars federal agencies from
recognizing the legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples.
Karen Golinski, a 9th U.S.
Circuit of Appeals lawyer, sued the government after her employer
denied health insurance coverage to her wife, Amy Cunninghis. The
U.S. Office of Personnel (OPM) argues that DOMA blocks such benefits.
In its brief, however, the Justice
Department, which announced earlier it would no longer defend the law
in court, sided with Golinski.
“The official legislative record
makes plain that DOMA Section 3 was motivated in large part by animus
toward gay and lesbian individuals and their intimate relationships,
and Congress identified no other interest that is materially advanced
by Section 3,” the DOJ wrote.
Speaking to the Associated Press,
Tobias Barrington Wolff, a law professor at the University of
Pennsylvania, called the brief a “complete paradigm shift.”
“This brief represents the concrete
manifestation of a complete paradigm shift in the federal
government's position on anti-gay discrimination and the
constitutional rights of married same-sex couples,” Wolff said.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human
Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocate, cheered
the government's filing.
“The Administration's decision to
call DOMA what it is – a law that serves no purpose but to single
out a group of people for second-class status – was a watershed
moment in the fight for LGBT equality. Now the federal government
has taken that historic stand a step further and put real meat on the
bones of why there is no basis for DOMA to stand. This step
represents real leadership from the Obama administration and further
hastens the day in which we will leave this odious law in the dustbin
In its 31-page filing, the agency
argued that sexual orientation is an “immutable characteristic”
and that DOMA serves no legitimate policy interest.
“It's quite powerful to have the
administration saying in a court filing that this kind of
discrimination should be viewed suspiciously,” Golinski's attorney
Tara Borelli said.
Attorneys hired by the U.S. House of
Representatives had asked the court to dismiss the case.