DOJ Files Reply Brief In DOMA Challenge Case
August 17th, 2009
The Department of Justice filed its Reply Brief (PDF: 29KB/9 pages) in the case of Smelt v. United States this morning. That case seeks to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act through the courts. The restrained language in this brief indicates that the Obama administration heard loud and clear the outrage over its prior brief in the same case.
This time, the DOJ brief clearly states the administration’s belief that the Defense of Marriage Act, while constitutional, is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress (p. 2):
With respect to the merits, this Administration does not support DOMA as a matter of policy, believes that it is discriminatory, and supports its repeal. Consistent with the rule of law, however, the Department of Justice has long followed the practice of defending federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality, even if the Department disagrees with a particular statute as a policy matter, as it does here.
To reiterate that point, the White House issued this statement (no link yet):
Today, the Department of Justice has filed a response to a legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged. This brief makes clear, however, that my Administration believes that the Act is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress. I have long held that DOMA prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. While we work with Congress to repeal DOMA, my Administration will continue to examine and implement measures that will help extend rights and benefits to LGBT couples under existing law.
Interesting though, this time the DOJ refutes the claim by other parties which are trying to intervene to defend DOMA, claiming that the defense of so-called “traditional marriage” is needed in order to further procreation — and the DOJ quotes none other than Justice Antonin Scalia’s Lawrence v Texas dissent for support (pp. 6-7):
Unlike the intervenors here, the government does not contend that there are legitimate government interests in “creating a legal structure that promotes the raising of children by both of their biological parents” or that the government’s interest in “responsible procreation” justifies Congress’s decision to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman (Doc. 42 at 8-9). Since DOMA was enacted, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Medical Association, and the Child Welfare League of America have issued policies opposing restrictions on lesbian and gay parenting because they concluded, based on numerous studies, that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents. Furthermore, in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 605 (2003), Justice Scalia acknowledged in his dissent that encouraging procreation would not be a rational basis for limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples under the reasoning of the Lawrence majority opinion – which, of course, is the prevailing law – because “the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry.” For these reasons, the United States does not believe that DOMA is rationally related to any legitimate government interests in procreation and child-rearing and is therefore not relying upon any such interests to defend DOMA’s constitutionality.
That last sentence has Focus On the Family’s Drive-By, err, Drive-Thru blog all up in arms, who called it “a new low on marriage.”
This case particular case challenging the constitutionality of DOMA is considered by many legal experts as rather weak. Another case filed in Massachusetts by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is considered a much stronger case. Last month, the Massachusetts Attorney General announced a second lawsuit to challenge DOMA’s constitutionality.