BY STAFF REPORTER
THE US bishops’ legal office has criticised the Obama administration for its decision not to support the Defence of Marriage Act in forthcoming legal challenges.
The bishops’ office of general counsel said the decision “represents an abdication” of the government’s “constitutional obligation to ensure that laws of the United States are faithfully executed”.
In a statement it said: “Marriage has been understood for millennia and across cultures as the union of one man and one woman.” The statement was issued after President Barack Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the federal law passed by Congress and signed into law in 1996 by the then-president Bill Clinton.
The Defence of Marriage Act says the federal government defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and that no state must recognise a same-sex marriage from another state.
The office of general counsel said: “The principal basis for today’s decision is that the President considers the law a form of impermissible sexual orientation discrimination.” Attorney General Eric Holder, who is Mr Obama’s legal adviser, said that although the administration had defended the 1996 law in some federal courts, it would not continue to do so in cases pending in the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals. Unlike in the previous cases, Mr Holder said, the Second Circuit “has no established or binding standard for how laws concerning sexual orientation should be treated”.
In response to the announcement, the National Organisation for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, called on Congress to “get lawyers in the courtroom who actually want to defend the law, and not please their powerful political special interests”.
Brian Brown, the organisation’s president, said: “We have only begun to fight.” He said that with Mr Holder’s announcement, Mr Obama had “unilaterally” declared homosexuals “a protected class” under the constitution and would effectively make a federal court decision on the law “unreviewable by higher courts”.
In the pending cases, Mr Holder said, the administration “faces for the first time the question of whether laws regarding sexual orientation are subject to the more permissive standard of review or whether a more rigorous standard, under which laws targeting minority groups with a history of discrimination are viewed with suspicion by the courts, should apply”.