US President Barack Obama supports repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive], Press Secretary Jay Carney announced at a White House press briefing [text] Tuesday. Carney also said that Obama supports the Respect for Marriage Act [text], which was introduced by Congressional Democrats [JURIST report] in February to repeal DOMA, the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." Carney relayed the president's sentiments about repealing DOMA and communicated the president's support for the Respect for Marriage Act:
I can tell you that the President has long called for a legislative repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people — our families, friends and neighbors. He is proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by Senator Feinstein and Congressman Nadler, which would take DOMA off the books once and for all. This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples.The Senate will hold the first hearing for the Respect for Marriage Act today.
In March, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] announced that he was launching a legal advisory group to defend [JURIST report] DOMA, stating "[t]he constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts, not by the president unilaterally, and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution." Democrats introduced the Respect for Marriage Act following February's announcement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] that it will no longer defend the constitutionality [JURIST report] of Section 3 of DOMA, which restricts the federal definition of marriage to heterosexual couples, in court cases challenging the provision. The announcement came just one month after the DOJ filed a brief [JURIST report] with the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] defending the constitutionality of DOMA. The appeal followed a July 2010 ruling [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which found that Section 3 of DOMA violates both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment and State Sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment [text]. Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Currently DOMA allows other states to ignore those recognized same-sex marriages, and prevents same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits available to married couples.