President Obama’s administration said Friday that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, filing a brief weeks ahead of scheduled arguments before the Supreme Court.
In its brief, the Justice Department said that DOMA, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, “violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection.”
“The law denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples,” the brief added.
Obama has already ordered his administration not to defend DOMA, and announced he supported same-sex marriage during the heat of last year’s presidential campaign.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments next month on the case of Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay taxes on the estate of her deceased partner, Thea Spyer.
The couple had married in Canada, and their marriage was recognized in their home state of New York at the time Spyer died in 2009. But Windsor was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes that would not have been required if her deceased spouse had been a man.
House Republicans have taken up the defense of DOMA, which overwhelmingly passed Congress in 1996 and was signed by former President Clinton.
Congressional Democrats are currently pushing measures that would repeal DOMA, in addition to groups’ legal efforts to have the law ruled unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear arguments about California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage approved in 2008.
According to reports, the administration plans to file a brief in that case that supports the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
“I have to make sure that I'm not interjecting myself too much in this process, particularly when we're not a party to the case,” Obama told a San Francisco television station this week.