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US will no longer defend Defense of Marriage Act in court

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Last summer, a federal judge in Massachusetts declared the law unconstitutional in two cases. Those decisions are now on appeal at the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Five states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Twenty-nine states ban it in their state constitutions, and 13 others prohibit it by state statute.

DOMA was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. It passed the House 342 to 67 and passed the Senate 85 to 14.

Justice Department lawyers are employed in part to defend challenged federal laws. But provisions allow the department to back out of certain cases.

It is unclear who, in the absence of the Justice Department, will defend the statute and whether they will have the necessary legal standing to mount such a defense.

In his letter to Speaker Boehner, Holder said Justice Department lawyers would “notify the courts of our interest in providing Congress a full and fair opportunity to participate in the litigation in [pending DOMA] cases.”

Holder said the executive branch is not abandoning DOMA. He said Mr. Obama has instructed his administration that it must continue to enforce the 1996 law and comply with the statute’s requirements – unless or until it is repealed by Congress or struck down as unconstitutional by the judiciary.

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