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Holder to state attorneys general: You don’t have to defend marriage bans

Monday, February 24, 2014
Manuel Balce Ceneta, APAttorney General Eric Holder speaks at the annual Attorneys General Winter Meeting in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Holder said state attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws in their states banning same sex-marriage if they don't believe in them.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP
Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the annual Attorneys General Winter Meeting in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Holder said state attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws in their states banning same sex-marriage if they don’t believe in them.

Updated: 1:00 p.m. EST (Feb. 25, 2014)

WASHINGTON — State attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws in their states banning same-sex marriage if the laws discriminate in a way forbidden by the Constitution, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told his state counterparts Tuesday.

Holder cited his own experience in refusing to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, as well as similar stances taken more recently by state attorneys general, in saying that laws raising questions of equal protection deserve a higher level of scrutiny. Any refusal to defend a state law must not be made lightly, he said, but it’s imperative to uphold the values “that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity.”

“Any decisions — at any level — not to defend individual laws must be exceedingly rare,” Holder told state attorneys general at a meeting of their national association. “And they must never stem merely from policy or political disagreements — hinging instead on firm constitutional grounds.”

His own view, he said, is that “we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation.”

The remarks come weeks after the Justice Department announced that same-sex spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, should be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly and are entitled to the same rights and privileges as federal prison inmates in opposite-sex marriages.

Democratic attorneys general in six states — Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Oregon and Nevada — have declined to defend same-sex marriage bans that have been challenged in court by gay couples.

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Holder himself refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2011, which helped lead to last year’s Supreme Court decision striking down a key part of that law that denied gay married couples the federal benefits and privileges enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

“Our actions were motivated by the strong belief that all measures that distinguish among people based on their sexual orientation must be subjected to a heightened standard of scrutiny — and, therefore, that this measure was unconstitutional discrimination,” Holder said.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said he respected that Holder “approached it in a mindset that reasonable legal minds can disagree on an issue, as to how we approach it.”

Hood said he has not yet been asked to defend his state’s ban on same-sex marriage, but has been watching the court fights in other states.

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34 more reader comments:

  1. What is our world coming to?

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 2:59am
  2. death and destruction because of profits and prophets.

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:01am
  3. US citizens to holder file sedition charges against anyone introducing and backing these types of bills. They are inherently unconstitutional and thus those who promote them are breaking their oaths of office.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:01am
  4. A special Thank you going out to Eric Holder for supplying the 2,000 assault weapons to the Mexican drug cartel so we can continue to get our Crystal Meth. You are a true LGBT American. Who cares that 70,000 Mexican civilians and a US border patrol agent died from the use of those weapons we Gays got what we wanted and that is all that counts. Now lets force this behavior on Syria and Russia. ONE LOVE!

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:36am
  5. Um…what did his parents and grandparents say when the whites said the same thing about Black rights? He must have a very short memory!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:03am
  6. I don't understand. It sounds like you agree with Holder but you are disagreeing with him.

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 11:53am
  7. So laws that discriminate against felons purchasing guns should not be defended?

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:06am
  8. Wow, how did you read THAT into the article? I read it twice, and saw no such reference or implication, at ALL! Get a grip!

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 8:25am
  9. That’s good but not going to happen in Ga with the idiot Sam Olens as AG

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:07am
  10. Isn’t he discriminated against to this day just for the color of his skin?

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:21am
  11. A special Thank you going out to Eric Holder for supplying the 2,000 assault weapons to the Mexican drug cartel so we can continue to get our Crystal Meth. You are a true LGBT American. Who cares that 70,000 Mexican civilians and a US border patrol agent died from the use of those weapons we Gays got what we wanted and that is all that counts. Now lets force this behavior on Syria and Russia. ONE LOVE!

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:38am
  12. I hope everyone realizes that with out guns and no army Islam is going to take us over and we Gays will be the first they sacrifice.

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:39am
  13. The good Christian assholes are sure trying hard to make the US a theocracy like Iran. Don't see much difference in the two.

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:43am
  14. It turns out that the LGBT community backed the African American Community only to have them turn their backs on us when we then wanted equal rights.

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:45am
  15. Are you sure you read this article? He is saying that AG's don't need to defend laws that discriminate against (for example) same sex marriage. He is making an anti discrimination statement.

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 4:00am
  16. I did but must have taken it in incorrectly thanks for the heads up. Long shift, little sleep.

    Replied on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 4:12am
  17. Ah, what? Who or what gives him all the power & authority to declare this? ?

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:23am
  18. A special Thank you going out to Eric Holder for supplying the 2,000 assault weapons to the Mexican drug cartel so we can continue to get our Crystal Meth. You are a true LGBT American. Who cares that 70,000 Mexican civilians and a US border patrol agent died from the use of those weapons we Gays got what we wanted and that is all that counts. Now lets force this behavior on Syria and Russia. ONE LOVE!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:35am
  19. I’ve been Gay my entire life and HIV+ for two thirds of it and as a Native American I have a right to my own opinion. If the government seriously wanted us to be Equal it would have happened when Bill Clinton was in off or even better yet President Obama’s first year of his first term. With Out Guns and no Army to protect us, we are nothing more than sitting ducks that are allowed to marry.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:48am
  20. Asshole forgot where he came from. Everyone’s out for themselves!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:50am
  21. Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:52am
  22. Holder thank you for speaking out against discrimination it’s about time for better leadership.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 4:02am
  23. An American Man…

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 4:31am
  24. I am so proud of the US Attorney General. I hope his words hit home to the AGs in the states that the time is now to stop defending laws that is promoting different classes of citizens.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 8:09am
  25. Holder specifically mentions using the highest level of scrutiny when dealing with laws that involve constitutionally guaranteed rights.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 10:58am
  26. We have many laws that discriminate that have been deemed to be legal because they serve a public policy good. The drinking age is 21 (a form of age discrimination). Using Holder’s logic that law should not be defended. Sex offender registries would also not be worth defending under Holder’s logic.

    I understand his intentions and what he is trying to say but his statement is overly broad and wrong.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 11:30am
  27. I agree with the goal but I am deeply concerned with the process and the precedents being set in reaching that goal.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 12:12pm
  28. If you have a problem with a law, change the law. Don’t ignore it or get it changed in court. It’s kindof their job to defend the state laws, kindof like it is Holders job to enforce laws equally… With that in mind, not terribly surprised by the statement.

    Like a previous commenter, it’s more the way this is being done than the end goal.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 12:28pm
  29. God bless! :)

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 2:27pm
  30. You don’t have to or you have no reason to?

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 2:56pm
  31. Braa Kwaku how you know he hates it?
    As far as I know I havent heard about anyone talking to God and he talked back.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:28pm
  32. Lol. Gay people are real. God may or may not be real, so people hate gays so that in the off chance they won’t piss of God. Makes sense right (;

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:30pm
  33. #LGBTrights

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 3:32pm
  34. So, playing devils advocate – what if there were a law defending equal marriage rights and an AG decides not to defend *that* law?

    With all due respect, Eric Holder is wrong. An AG is there to defend and uphold the law as passed – the AG doesn’t get to pass personal judgement. That can cut *both* ways.

    Please keep in mind that I am totally behind equal marriage rights.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 4:00pm