February 20, 2012 Print
Eric Holder

Justice Department Won’t Defend DOMA for the Military

by Karla Dial

The Obama administration did an about-face concerning military policy and the federal Defense of Marriage Act on Friday, when Attorney General Eric Holder informed Congress the Department of Justice will not stand in the way of any service members’ same-sex spouses suing the military for spousal benefits.

Holder wrote that he has determined that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — the federal law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman — violates the equal protection clause of the First Amendment.

“The President and I have concluded that classification based on sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened standard of constitutional scrutiny under equal protection principles and (DOMA) fails such scrutiny as applied to couples who are legally married under state law,” he wrote.

Col. Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said watchdogs have been expecting such an event since President Obama announced plans to repeal the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

“I just find this administration — I’m going to use a strong word — hypocritical,” he told CitizenLink. “Because during the repeal process, the Department of Defense personnel briefed our chaplains and they told us nothing will change once Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is repealed. ‘The Defense of Marriage Act is still in force, and will therefore be the guiding line for decisions concerning benefits for service members.’ I am extremely disappointed in this administration for telling us one thing before the repeal vote in Congress and then telling us the exact opposite afterward.”

Bill Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation, said Holder’s letter is constitutionally weak.

“It’s all just made up. There’s no part of the Constitution that talks about sexual orientation, the need for the government to give benefits to people,” he said. “This is really troubling because it’s a pattern. We’re not dealing with an administration that adheres to the basic constitutional principle that the government is supposed to do only what it’s given power to do by the Constitution.”

The Obama administration announced last year it would not defend DOMA against challenges filed by civilians. A legal team appointed by the House of Representatives is currently defending the law, and is expected to take on any suits filed by service members in the future.

And those challenges are sure to come now.

“They’re just inviting other lawsuits against the military for same-sex couples to receive the benefits that have, up to this date, been given only to couples who are married according to the definition of the Defense of Marriage Act,” Crews said.

Read Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter to Congress.