Holder: Justice Department will not defend DOMA over military benefits

The Justice Department will not defend a federal law that prevents same-sex couples from receiving military benefits, Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday in a letter to congressional leaders.

Holder said the Obama administration will not defend sections of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prevent same-sex couples from receiving military benefits, which is being challenged in the federal case McLaughlin v. Panetta.

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Holder said the section of DOMA in question violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The decision follows the Obama administration’s decision last year not to defend DOMA, a law stating that states and the federal government do not have to recognize same-sex marriages. President Obama has called the law unconstitutional.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) responded last year by hiring a private law firm to defend DOMA. A Boehner spokesman Friday referred questions to the counsel, Paul Clement, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the letter, which was first reported by Talking Points Memo, Holder wrote that the Obama administration will allow Congress an opportunity to defend the case.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said Democrats plan to file briefs in DOMA cases to respond to the Republicans, and she has criticized Boehner for using taxpayer dollars to hire the outside counsel.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has advocated for same-sex rights in the military, cheered Friday’s decision. Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said in a news release that he is “delighted that, for the first time, [Holder] has said that separate definitions that apply to military veterans are also unconstitutional.”

Holder said the military benefits in the lawsuit include medical and dental benefits, basic housing allowances, travel and transportation allowances, family separation benefits, visitation rights in military hospitals, survival benefits and burial rights.