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Department of Justice drops appeal of DOMA ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Court

Friday, July 8, 2011
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In a victory for gay rights advocates, the U.S. Department of Justice has withdrawn its appeal of a recent U.S. Bankruptcy Court ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

On June 13, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, and granted a legally married gay couple a joint Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Weeks later, the Justice Department appealed the ruling, a decision which seemed inconsistent with the February announcement by the Obama Administration that the DOJ would no longer defend DOMA in court.

But the department explained that it was a procedural move in case the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) — a council convened by House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) to intervene in DOMA cases — wished to pursue the appeal.

Boehner announced that the House would intervene in the DOMA cases the DOJ no longer pursued. Now that BLAG has indicated it will not defend DOMA in this particular case, the trustee has withdrawn its appeal.

In the filing Wednesday, U.S. Trustee for California, Jill Sturtevant wrote, “The [DOJ] has advised the [BLAG] of the pendency of this appeal, and the BLAG has responded that it does not intend to appear to present arguments in support of Section 3 of DOMA.”

The decision represents a new policy, according to DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, who told Metro Weekly that the Justice Department “has informed bankruptcy courts that it will no longer seek dismissal of bankruptcy petitions filed jointly by same-sex debtors who are married under state law.”

The move comes just days after a DOJ filing in the case of Karen Golinski, a federal employee who is suing to secure equal benefits for her wife. In that brief, the DOJ reaffirmed its position that DOMA is unconstitutional, and called it hostile toward gay and lesbian couples.

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