The Politics of Obama's DOMA Decision

Will ordering the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act become a liability for a Obama?

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The Obama administration is calculating that it will receive little political backlash for its decision to tell the Justice Department to stop prosecuting cases related to the Defense of Marriage Act. Originally, the largely symbolic act was intended to head off the legalization of gay marriage by stating that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. Here's an overview of political implications of the decision (for legal implications of the DOMA reversal visit opinions by Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and The Atlantic's Andrew Cohen):

  • Why Now? Well, Maybe Republicans Will Take the Bait reasons Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, who perhaps sarcastically notes "with the nation focusing on union influence in the public sector and a debate on public spending, what better time to reverse course on gay marriage?" Distractions aside, Morrissey offers this answer to the "why now?" question. "Perhaps the President has finally realized that his allies are thinning, and he figures that he needs to start pandering to those still on his side. It could certainly help distract from the budget fight, if Republicans take the bait."
  • Is Obama's 'Evolving' Gay Marriage Stance a Political Liability? Maybe. At the New York Times, Michael Shear figures that it's "a reality that a Republican rival might use in a campaign against the president next year" and gives the GOP "an opportunity to portray the president as less than principled on core issues." Whether or not this will be effective campaign wedge remains to be seen--voters appear to be much more concerned about fiscal, not social issues during recent elections.
  • Couldn't a GOP President Use The Same Tactic To Ignore Health Care Reform?  "The Obama administration's tactic could come back to haunt it," hedges a Washington Post editorial. "What would the president say, for example, if a conservative Republican administration in the future attempted to sabotage the Obama health-care initiative by refusing to defend it against constitutional attack? The administration is right to question a law that singles out a group of people for discriminatory treatment. But the best way to eliminate its invidious effects is to work with lawmakers to erase the law from the books."
  • Don't Think There'll Be Backlash? Social Conservatives Are Mobilizing  For evidence, Salon's War Room blogger Alex Pareene points out that Fox News is already riling up its viewers: "Yesterday Megyn Kelly already told everyone that not defending DOMA means Obama is a dictator." But if Republicans do decide to mobilize, Salon's Linda Hirschman argues, the may be set up for a public relations debacle:
If House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow Republicans elect to wage a fight for DOMA, they will undoubtedly phrase their announcement in the culture war language that plays so well with their party base. But then, the Republicans and their lawyers will have to step into federal court and prove--subject to cross-examination--how the republic would be damaged if same sex spouses can get, say, federal railroad retirement benefits.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.