While Defending It in Court, White House Vows to Repeal Defense of Marriage Act

The Obama administration says it must defend DOMA against legal challenges but vows to repeal it later.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese has fired off a long letter to President Obama chiding his Justice Department for filing a brief last week in support of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. (The Obama administration says it's obligated to defend laws on the books—even ones with which it disagrees—against legal challenges).

But in a little-noticed move, the White House dispatched its top openly gay official yesterday to reaffirm the president's commitment to a broad gay rights agenda—including repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages and allows states to ignore marriage licenses granted to gay couples in other states. That agenda also includes repealing "don't ask, don't tell" in the military.

Here's what John Berry, Obama's director of the Office of Personnel Management, told the Advocate, a gay publication, on Sunday:

We have four broad legislative goals that we want to accomplish and legislation is one of these things where you've got to move when the opportunity strikes, so I'm going to list them in an order but it's not necessarily going to go one, two, three, four. Obviously, I think the first opportunity is hate crimes and we're hopeful that we can get that passed this week. We're going to try, but if not, we're going to keep at it until we get it passed. The second one [is] ENDA [the Employment Nondiscrimination Act], we want to secure that passage of ENDA, and third is we want to repeal legislatively "don't ask don't tell," and fourth, we want to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Now, I'm not going to pledge—and nor is the president—that this is going to be done by some certain date. The pledge and the promise is that, this will be done before the sun sets on this administration—our goal is to have this entire agenda accomplished and enacted into law so that it is secure.

Despite those bold reassurances, the hastily arranged interview between Berry and the Advocate, which happened backstage at Washington's Capital Pride Festival, suggests the Obama team is picking up on growing unease in the LGBT community.

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