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Obama stops enforcement of Defense of Marriage Act

Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011

Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2011 10:03

Robert Heddleston and Chris Hollar are disappointed after receiving word on Thursday, August 12, 201

(Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times/MCT)

Robert Heddleston and Chris Hollar are disappointed after receiving word on Thursday, August 12, 2010, that a temporary ban on same sex marriages remains in effect until August 18. The two were among the dozens of gay couples in line at San Francisco City Hall hoping to be married.

In an unprecedented move, President Barack Obama has stopped the U.S. Department of Justice from enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act.

The 1996 law, signed by former President Bill Clinton, was put into place to bar the recognition of same-sex marriages at the federal level. This allows individual states to decide the issue on their own.

Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder cited the DOMA as "unconstitutional," saying it will no longer be enforced "despite having done so Obama's first two years in office," according to The New York Times.

Social conservatives denounced the move as purely political and questioned the legality of the Obama Administration not enforcing a federal law it does not agree with.

Advocates of same-sex marriage praised the move as a "watershed moment" just weeks after the military's repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

Although a new federal law or constitutional amendment allowing same-sex marriage on the federal level is currently not being considered, no longer enforcing the DOMA is enough for some people.

"[Same-sex marriage] is a social justice issue and a victory for LGBT people," President of UT Spectrum Steven Toth said. "A victory makes us happier."

Toth said the goal of Spectrum is to provide a "safe place" for the LGBT community and for same-sex couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

"If DOMA gets overturned, students and faculty elsewhere will be able to get benefits such as health care," Toth said.

Toth pointed out UT is one of the only campuses in the country that already gives benefits to same-sex couples.

"The number of schools that does this nationwide is around 12 percent," he said.

Toth also mentioned how striking it is for one president to overturn the act of another.

"It is just amazing they will not be defending this, because it is a federal law," he said. "This could allow same-sex marriage to be more attainable on the state level. It could be a domino effect."

Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa and Washington D.C. allow same-sex marriage.

"Although Obama was open about not knowing much about gay rights during the campaign, his views have evolved," Toth said. "During the campaign, he said he would enforce the DOMA. But now he is willing to make the decision based on his own journey."

Toth also mentioned how progressive the U.S. has become on same-sex marriage in recent years.

"It really speaks about the evolution of gay rights in just 15 years," he said. "It is very overwhelming to make such strides in such a short amount of time."

Toth said a lot of people in the LGBT community were very cautious about politics and their rights after Clinton signed the DOMA.

"Clinton was the first president to look at the gay community as a real voting block, but then he betrayed the LGBT community by signing it. But this shows that change can happen," he said. "I would like to see a new federal law regarding same-sex marriage."

David Holtzapple, another Spectrum member, said it is hard for those in the LGBT community to figure out goals for their engagements or possible marriage when they are unsure whether they will be considered married legally or not.

"Right now, one state will say you are married while another does not," Holtzapple said. "In the past, a lot of cases have been tried, but always turned down."

Holtzapple, who is engaged to another man, said he would love to someday marry his partner.

"Some people think it is unconstitutional, but why does it matter," he said. "There are no good arguments against gay marriage."

But Patrick Richardson, public relations director for the UT College Republicans, feels going around the law is wrong.

"Regardless of moral ethics, the DOMA was passed by Congress and is the law of the land," Richardson said. "The law should be enforced unless it is repealed."

Fatima Pervaiz, program coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Student Services, is on board with Obama's change in direction.

"I think this is a fabulous step in the right direction for all people," Pervaiz said. "It speaks volumes for our current administration. It shows how supportive our president is for people regardless of race, sex, origin or ethnicity. This monumental act will do wonders to help shift the social climate in a direction affirming that all people can be who they are and love who they love."

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