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  • Uebelhor

Administration fails in not defending DOMA


March 02, 2011
Last week, the Obama administration said it no longer would defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts because it believes the act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, is unconstitutional.

That's a sharp change from January, when then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that, while President Barack Obama believes DOMA should not exist and should be repealed, "We can't declare the law unconstitutional and have to represent the viewpoint of the defendant."

It would seem that the administration was right before it was wrong. Forget what the DOMA is about; that's another argument for another time. What matters right now is that the administration is circumventing the process by which laws, when challenged in the courts, are created and then either upheld or ruled unconstitutional. In essence, the executive branch is doing the job of the judicial branch.

The only logical explanation for the about-face is the president's personal opinions about DOMA, and therein lies the problem.

Shouldn't the U.S. Department of Justice, despite the political leanings of the administration, fervently defend what has been deemed the law of the land by the legislative branch and a previous executive branch? The Obama administration has indicated that it will continue to enforce the law and remain a party in the current legal cases so they can proceed to judgment, but, by not actively defending the law, they are helping to sabotage it.

That seems awfully shortsighted. It sends the message that if future administrations disagree politically with a particular law — last year's health care reform? — they simply can choose not to defend it, significantly damaging its chances in the courts. That's a shame because it shortchanges the political process. The legislative branch passes bills, the executive branch signs them into law and the judicial branch determines whether they are constitutional.

Again, this is about process and not the Defense of Marriage Act and whether gays and lesbians have the right to marry. That is a question for the courts to answer after a vigorous defense by the branch of government that signed it into law. Unfortunately, the current occupant of that branch has decided the process doesn't matter.

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