A legal brief filed Monday states the administration's opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act. Yet administration lawyers are still defending the law, angering gay-rights groups.
The Obama administration sent mixed signals on same sex-marriage Monday, frustrating both sides of the contentious issue.
In a legal brief filed Monday, Justice Department lawyers asserted that the administration “does not support" an existing law that limits the federal definition of marriage to heterosexual couples, calling it "discriminatory" and saying that the administration "supports its repeal.”
Yet in that same brief, Justice Department lawyers ask a judge to throw out a lawsuit against that very same law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
It is a sign that the Obama administration is feeling pressure from gay-rights groups, who say President Obama has not done enough for their cause since his inauguration. For its part, the administration appears to feel caught between its duty to defend a law that it sees as legitimate and a desire to overturn it.
In Monday's brief, lawyers said Congress acted reasonably when it passed the law, which not only defines marriage as being between a man and a women but also gives states the right to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere.
“We appreciate that this brief represents progress, but it falls short of where it needs to be,” says Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, a gay and lesbian rights group.
Ms. Pizer and other gay rights advocates would like to see the administration back away from any defense of DOMA.
Mr. Obama said he would like to see DOMA overturned by Congress.
But he said in a statement Monday that the administration is obliged to defend lawsuits that challenge federal law.
Jurisprudence does not suggest that that is necessarily so, according to Lambda Legal. It cites eight cases since 1983 in which courts upheld an administration's right to not defend laws passed during previous administrations.
"This list is not to suggest that the administration is completely outside of mainstream thought in deciding to defend DOMA, but just to show that [the Department of Justice] certainly does not have an absolute duty to defend," Pizer writes in an e-mail