Obama Deals DOMA Another Blow (but a Mass. Judge Threw the First Punch)

Following on the tail of New York State’s decision to allow gay marriage last month, there was more good news for gay couples yesterday when the White House took another step in its “evolving” path toward supporting gay rights.

President Obama announced that he wound endorse a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that legally defines marriage as a union between a woman and man. Earlier this year, White House officials said that they would no longer defend the law in court, but they’ve decided to take the additional step in order to “uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples,” according to White House spokesperson Jay Carney. Those are rights like being able to receive Social Security benefits for a spouse, or have them avoid getting deported, or extending health insurance benefits to their spouse if they’re a federal employee.

The new bill, called the Respect for Marriage Act, was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and it would repeal DOMA, which has been on the books since 1996. She says it’s time: “The policy was wrong then and it is wrong today, and I believe it should be repealed,” she told an audience at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

DOMA’s precarious position can largely be credited with the work of a Massachusetts federal judge who threw the first punch against the law, says The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen. He reminds us that just over a year ago, United States District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro “struck down the DOMA with a vivid opinion that simply vitiated the rationale for the law.” Cohen continues:

We wouldn’t be where we are today on the Defense of Marriage Act — the White House backing away from it in court, opponents receding into the background, the Congress on the prowl — if Judge Tauro had not issued that ruling last July. Or if he had authored a ruling that was less unequivocal than the one he issued. For he didn’t just strike down the DOMA. He eviscerated it. And in so doing gave legal and political cover for all that has come since.