Attorney General Martha Coakley, who filed a 2009 lawsuit that helped persuade a federal judge in Boston to declare the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in July, said she was “very pleased” with the president’s decision to no longer defend the law.
“Today’s decision…is another very important victory for the civil rights of same-couples and their families,” Coakley said at a press conference in her Boston office. “We think the reasoning, as expressed by General Holder is, in some ways, dependent on the extensive discovery and arguments that occurred in Massachusetts."
In a statement released by his office, Governor Deval Patrick threw his support behind the Obama administration.
“I am tremendously heartened today by President Obama’s decision to turn away from this divisive and unfair law,.'' he said. "In Massachusetts, we believe that every person ought to be able to marry whomever they love, and we believe the rest of the country is moving forward in that direction, too."
Coakley told reporters that the law has now been declared discriminatory and unconstitutional by the judge in Boston, Joseph L. Tauro, and by the Obama administration.
Coakley said she assumed the Obama administration would now drop its appeal of Tauro’s decision, which the administration was challenging in the First Circuit of Appeals in Boston.
The Obama administration had already filed briefs in the case, and briefs from Coakley’s office were due March 1.
Coakley said she was waiting to see whether US House Speaker John Boehner or anyone in Congress would appeal the case in Obama’s place. If Congress does not defend the law, Tauro’s decision against DOMA “would be the final decision,” Coakley said.
“As a practical matter, that would be the end of it here in Massachusetts,” Coakley said. “That would be the precedent and the law of the land, that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.”
She said married same-sex couples in Massachusetts would then be treated the same as other married couples for the purposes of Social Security, federal income taxes, and military benefits.
“It’s a great victory for same-sex couples, and it’s a great victory for Massachusetts, frankly,” Coakley said. She added the decision by Obama administration, which had been defending the law in court for two years, was "a pleasant surprise."
"We fully anticipated that not only would this go to the First Circuit, we thought this was something that might go to the Supreme Court - and it still may, of course," she said. "But this is a welcome decision."
But Mathew D. Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law , a conservative Christian instituion in Lynchburg, Va., blasted the president's decision.
"It is cataclysmic in many respects because it’s one thing to present a poor defense, and another thing to bring no defense,” Staver said. “And no defense means it doesn’t even allow it a chance. It simply abandons the law that was lawfully passed and supported by the American people.”
He accused Obama of “conspiring with the radial left to promote his agenda against DOMA," and predicted the decision would encourage gay rights activists to challenge measures passed in the states that declare marriage to be the union of one man and one woman.
"It has a ripple effect that could cross over to other court cases in other states. It will spawn litigation in these other states," Staver said. "It's outrageous that the president has abandoned the defense of a federal law that has been upheld by other courts, passed by a bipartisan Legislature and signed by President Clinton."
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