[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] on Saturday told gay rights activists that he would continue to fight for the repeal [text] of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive]. During a speech given at the 15th annual dinner hosted by equal rights group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) [advocacy website], Obama told the audience that DOMA “runs counter to the Constitution, and it’s time for it to end once and for all,” and that his administration was no longer defending the legislation. The president called on equal rights advocates to continue fighting for equality and acknowledged that progress would take time:
I don’t have to tell you how many are still denied their basic rights—Americans who are still made to feel like second-class citizens, who have to live a lie to keep their jobs, or who are afraid to walk the street, or down the hall at school. Many of you have devoted your lives to the cause of equality. So you know what we have to do; we’ve got more work ahead of us.
Finally, Obama discussed a number of other measures his administration has implemented in an effort to “fight for equality,” including the recent repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) [10 USC § 654; JURIST news archive], which took effect on September 20 [JURIST report].
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced at a White House press briefing [text] in July that Obama supports the repeal of DOMA. 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 legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” 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.