The Obama Justice Department yesterday filed a brief urging a California district court to dismiss a little-known constitutional challenge to DOMA filed in late 2008 by a married gay couple . . . For lots of reasons, gay-marriage advocacy groups would like to see this case go away . . . A dismissal on jurisdictional grounds would nicely suit that purpose, and that seems to me the most likely outcome.Certainly, there can be lots of discussion on the Federal DOMA and it's constitutional merits - but what caught my conservative eye was Carpenter's point of interest #3:
But the DOJ brief goes further than it needs to go at this point in the case by addressing the merits of the constitutional issues in the case, . . .
Of most interest is what the DOJ has to say about the due process and equal protection claims, rejecting just about every single variation of an argument that gay-rights scholars and litigants have made over the past 30 years.
(3) The Obama DOJ also has new understanding of federalism:The continual erosion of the rights of the several states vs the Federal government is, of course, worrisome to me.[B]ecause Congress recognized both the freedom of States to expand the traditional definition, and the freedom of other States to decline to recognize this newer form of marriage, a policy of neutrality dictated that Congress not extend federal benefits to new forms of marriage recognized by some States. Given the strength of competing convictions on this still-evolving issue, Congress could reasonably decide that federal benefits funded by taxpayers throughout the nation should not be used to foster a form of marriage that only some States recognize, and that other States do not. (emphasis added)Historically federal marriage benefits have been available to anyone married under state law. The federal definition was parasitic on the state definition. If a state chose to allow 14-year-olds to marry, but most states did not allow that, nobody thought federal recognition of such marriages functioned as a subsidy forced on the taxpayers of other states. DOMA changed that, but only for gay marriages. "Neutrality," as the Obama administration understands it, does not mean federal recognition of state choices in this matter. It means denying federal recognition of state choices.
Obviously, for folks who expected President Obama's administration to support gay marriage, Carpenter's conclusion may be a surprise:
My point here is not to claim that the DOJ's arguments are anti-gay, homophobic, or even wrong. Much of the brief seems right to me, or at least entirely defensible, as a matter of constitutional law. My point is only to note how much continuity there is in this instance, as in others, between the Bush and Obama administrations. In short, there's little in this brief that could not have been endorsed by the Bush DOJ. A couple of rhetorical flourishes here and there might have been different. Perhaps a turn of phrase. But, minus some references to procreation and slippery slopes, the substance is there.
Obama says he opposes DOMA as a policy matter and wants to repeal it. Nothing in the DOJ brief prevents him from acting on that belief. He is, he says, a "fierce advocate" for gay and lesbian Americans. When does that part start?