Following the institutional discrimination that Congress enacted under the Clinton administration in the 1990s, George W. Bush landed a consecutive and debilitating blow against the LGBT community during his 8 long, painful years in office, halting any hopes of progress and equality.
Barack Obama, whose campaign cornered the ‘change’ market, offered a ray of hope. Despite Obama’s “evolving” stance on gay marriage and accusations that he has dragged his feet in regards to a community who helped elect him President, real progress has been made. It may not have happened overnight, and there have been plenty of roadblocks along the way. Yet the momentum has irreversibly shifted. Under Obama, hospital visitation rights have been extended to same sex couples, his administration has appointed a record number of LGBT White House staffers, and in December, against all odds and in the eleventh hour, the Senate finally repealed the appalling Don’t Ask Don’t Tell legislation. The media blitz that resulted from this momentous occasion was followed by a celebratory signing ceremony, where an emotional Obama noted, “this is a good day.” He went on to praise the LGBT community, saying “it is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.”
Though further LGBT progress was left in doubt after Republicans took control of the House in November elections, President Obama and his administration today said they will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act banning the federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Department of Justice has defended the legislation during its 15-year lifespan, wrote in a letter to Speaker Boehner that “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 heightened standard of scrutiny. 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… I concur in this determination.”
Holder goes on to say, “while sexual orientation carries no visible badge, a growing scientific consensus accepts that sexual orientation is a characteristic that is immutable… it is undoubtedly unfair to require sexual orientation to be hidden from view to avoid discrimination.
Finally, there is a growing acknowledgment that sexual orientation “bears no relation to ability to perform or contribute to society. Recent evolutions in legislation… and in social science regarding sexual orientation all make clear that sexual orientation is not a characteristic that generally bears on legitimate policy objectives.”
The Defense of Marriage Act will remain law “unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality… This is the rare case where the proper course is to forgo the defense of this statute.
…The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional.”
The law has lost its biggest defender in court, and the clock is ticking. This is a historic shift, and it now stands as the most profound gay rights victory under the Obama administration. By deeming the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, the President of the United States has laid the groundwork for all discrimination based on sexual orientation to one day fall (sooner rather than later, we hope).
“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is a good day.
Read Eric Holder’s full letter here.