BREAKING: Obama administration will no longer defend key provision of DOMA

President Barack Obama

U.S Attorney General Eric Holder has issued a statement saying the Obama admistration will no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act because it believes the provision is unconstitutional.

Section 3, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes, was declared unconstitutional by a U.S. district judge last year, but the Justice Department appealed the decision. Holder’s statement means the Justice Department will no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA.

DOMA, passed in 1996, denies married same-sex couples more than 1,000 rights, benefits and responsibilities tied to marriage under federal law. These include Social Security survivors’ benefits, family and medical leave, equal compensation as federal employees, and immigration rights, among many others.

“This is a monumental decision for the thousands of same-sex couples and their families who want nothing more than the same rights and dignity afforded to other married couples,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement Wednesday. “As the President has stated previously, DOMA unfairly discriminates against Americans and we applaud him for fulfilling his oath to defend critical constitutional principles.”

HRC goes on to note that under federal law, the Obama administration must report its decision to Congress, where anti-gay lawmakers are likely to take up the defense of DOMA.

“Congressional leaders must not waste another taxpayer dollar defending this patently unconstitutional law,” Solmonese said. “The federal government has no business picking and choosing which legal marriages they want to recognize. Instead Congress should take this opportunity to wipe the stain of marriage discrimination from our laws.”

Today’s decision doesn’t mean Section 3 of DOMA has been repealed or will no longer be enforced. That would take a court ruling or an act of Congress. However, the announcement is consistent with Obama’s statements during his campaign, when he said he favored a full repeal of DOMA: “I support the full and unqualified repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act,” Obama said in 2007. “While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether.”

The full text of Holder’s statement is after the jump.

—  John Wright