White House Urges Court To Strike Key DOMA Provision

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 23 2013 7:00 AM

Is DOMA Legal Brief a Sign that White House Will Join Supreme Court Fight for Gay Marriage?

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The Obama administration has to decide by next week whether to join the legal fight against California's voter-approved ban on marriage equality

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The Obama administration told the Supreme Court it was time to declare unconstitutional a ban on federal government benefits outlined in the Defense of Marriage Act. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s brief argues that the 1996 law allows state and federal authorities to discriminate against same-sex couples by denying them benefits common to heterosexual couples, explains NBC News.

It’s hardly surprising that the administration wants the justices to uphold a U.S. federal appeals court ruling that declared DOMA unconstitutional. The White House had already made its position clear on the law. But the brief filed Friday marked the first time a president has endorsed the rights of same-sex couples in the Supreme Court. And some are seeing it as a strong sign that the White House will join the fight to declare California’s ban on gay marriage—Proposition 8—unconstitutional next week, points out Politico. The Obama administration allegedly still hasn’t made a final decision on whether to file a brief in that case.

The references in the administration’s brief to California’s Proposition 8 “were subtle and fleeting, but they immediately raised the question of whether the administration was getting into position to come out directly, next week, against that voter-approved ballot measure,” points out SCOTUS Blog.

The lawyers representing the two same-sex couples challenging Proposition 8 have said they still don’t know whether the administration would join their fight. “But those attorneys, and their clients—and, indeed, advocates of same-sex marriage across the country — could well have seen at least some positive signs in the administration brief … even though Proposition 8 is not in play directly in that case,” writes Lyle Denniston in Scotus Blog.

The brief notes that “gay and lesbian people have been subject to a significant history of discrimination in this country,” and adds that simple moral objection to homosexuality is not a valid reason to discriminate. "Moral opposition to homosexuality, though it may reflect deeply held personal views, is not a legitimate policy objective that can justify unequal treatment of gay and lesbian people.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.