Four years after supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Attorney General Eric Holder has completely changed his mind.
During June, four years ago, Holder spoke to students from the University of the District of Columbia law school about voting rights and campaign finance. When he was asked why his Justice Department was still defending DOMA, which recognized marriage as between one man and one woman, it got awkward.
“Whether we agree with them or not, the Justice Department (DOJ) by tradition is bound to do so,” Holder said.
While the Obama administration wanted DOMA repealed, the DOJ was supposed to defend Congress no matter what.
“Anybody who knows me knows that this is not a statute that I agree with, but there are times as lawyers when obligations that we have and the traditions of the Justice Department to defend an act with which we do not agree,” Holder said.
Fast forward to now as Holder stood in the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building and accepted the DOJ Pride’s Gerald B. Roemer Award from an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Justice Department employees.
Roemer, a former Justice Department employee who died of AIDS, was known for his work with LGBT issues and his decision to break away from the pack and abandon the defense of DOMA.
During his speech at the 2010 DOJ Pride event, Holder kept both DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) out of his talk. DOMA had yet to be defeated. He continued to refuse to defend the portion of the act that banned federal governments from recognizing same-sex marriages sanctioned by the states.
Robert Kaplan, who represented Edie Windsor in the lawsuit challenging DOMA and ultimately bringing it down, said that Holder is “one of the most powerful allies we have ever had.”
Since the DOJ decided to stop defending DOMA, Holder has argued that attorney generals should apply scrutiny to laws.
“Engaging in the process and making that determination is something that’s appropriate for an attorney general to do,” he told the New York Times in February.
Holder also recently spoke out against the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay adult leaders.
“Unfortunately, the continuation of a policy that discriminates against gay adult leaders – by an iconic American institution – only preserves and perpetuates the worst kind of stereotypes,” Holder said.
While the BSA allow openly gay youths to join their organization, they draw the line at openly gay adults.
“We recognize there are many opinions on these matters,” the BSA wrote in a statement referring to an interview with former Defense secretary Robert Gates, now BSA president, who said he would have allowed gay adult leaders but accepted the council vote. “The Boy Scouts of America believes that to disagree does not mean to disrespect, we remain focused on delivering the nation’s foremost youth development program.”
Holder said that those in America’s armed services that are gay are surely “fit to mentor, to teach, and to serve as role models for the leaders of future generations.”
However, he does understand that while equality isn’t everywhere, the United States has made big accomplishments recently.
“In recent years, and even in the last 12 months, our nation has made extraordinary strides to overcome obstacles and institutional biases that too often affect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals,” Holder said.