From the Associated Press
August 17, 2009
The Obama administration filed court papers Monday arguing that a federal marriage law discriminates against gays, even as government lawyers continue to defend the law.
Justice Department lawyers are seeking to dismiss a suit brought by a gay California couple challenging the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The administration's response to the case has angered gay activists who see it as backtracking on campaign promises made by President Obama.
In the court papers, the administration urges law's repeal but says that in the meantime, government lawyers will continue to defend it as a law on the books.
The government's previous filing in the case angered gay rights activists who supported Obama's candidacy in part because of his pledge to move forward on repealing the law and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevents gays from serving openly in the military.
"The administration believes the Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory and should be repealed," said Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, because it prevents equal rights and benefits.
The Justice Department, she added, is obligated "to defend federal statutes when they are challenged in court. The Justice Department cannot pick and choose which federal laws it will defend based on any one administration's policy preferences."
The law, often called DOMA, denies federal recognition of same-sex marriage and gives states the right to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states.
Obama has pledged to work to repeal the law.
Monday's court filing was in response to a lawsuit by Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, who are challenging the federal law, which prevents couples in states that recognize same-sex unions from securing Social Security spousal benefits, filing joint taxes and benefiting from other federal rights connected to marriage.
Justice lawyers have argued that the law is constitutional and contend that awarding federal marriage benefits to gays would infringe on the rights of taxpayers in the 30 states that specifically prohibit same-sex marriages.
Earlier this year, Massachusetts became the first state to challenge the law in court.