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Today’s decision doesn’t mean Section 3 of DOMA has been repealed or will no longer be enforced.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

Texas AG Greg Abbott argues that he can’t be sued for discriminating against gay employees

Greg Abbott

Last November we reported on a lawsuit filed by Vic Gardner of Tyler, who alleges that he was forced out of his job with the state attorney general’s office for being gay.

Jason C.N. Smith of Fort Worth, who’s representing Gardner in his suit against a former supervisor and AG Greg Abbott, reports that the case is set for a hearing in an Austin district court next Tuesday.

Smith said the AG’s office has field a motion seeking to dismiss the case, on grounds that Abbott can’t be sued for damages for discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation.

Although Texas has no statute prohibiting anti-gay job discrimination, courts have held that gay and lesbian government employees are protected by constitutional principles such as privacy and equal protection, Smith said. Still, he said it’s possible that Abbott would appeal the case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

“My hope is that the Texas Supreme Court would follow the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court and hold that gays are protected under the constitution,” Smith said. “I think certainly the law is very clear. It’s just a matter of whether they’re going to play politics with the gay community.

“Greg Abbott’s record both as a Supreme Court justice and as Texas attorney general, he’s not one who’s embraced giving everyone equal rights, so it doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t s think folks who are fired because they’re gay should be able to recover damages,” Smith added.

Garder, who’d worked for the AG’s child support division for about three years, says he resigned after repeatedly being unfairly disciplined. Despite Gardner’s above-average job performance, according to the lawsuit, Gardner’s supervisor had directed him to “not be so out.”

Gardner is seeking reinstatement to a similar position and back pay, as well as a declaration by the AG’s office that he was discriminated against and a pledge not to do so going forward.

A spokesman for Abbott’s office has declined to comment on the case.

—  John Wright