How far we've come in just a few years, huh? In an op-ed for USA Today published Monday, soon-to-be outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder not only embraced the marriage equality movement himself — he's long been a staunch ally on this issue — but he announced that the Department of Justice will be expressing as much, too. Holder said that a pro-same sex marriage Supreme Court brief will be filed by the DOJ next week, and expressed both the moral virtue and legal standing of marriage equality, condemning state-level bans as discriminatory and unconstitutional.
In other words, it's a show of public support that nobody could have envisioned throughout the entire George W. Bush administration, of that there's no doubt. It's also a level of vocal, headline-grabbing support that was absent throughout the early years of the President Obama era, to boot — it's easy to forget these days, but Obama was statedly opposed to same-sex marriage as a candidate in 2008, and that stance stuck until 2012. Back in February, former Obama campaign mastermind David Axelrod wrote in a new book that Obama was knowingly lying in 2008, a claim that the President's since contested. But many of his supporters knew it all along — at the very least, I never believed for an instant that he opposed marriage equality.
But setting that aside, Holder's tireless work on this issue has earned him a noteworthy place in America's gay rights history. In his Monday op-ed, he laid out the reasons the DOJ supports same-sex marriage, and the reasons the Supreme Court ought to eliminate bans at the state level.
This week, the Justice Department will file a brief setting forth our position that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the fundamental constitutional guarantee of "equal protection of the laws." It is clear that the time has come to recognize that gay and lesbian people deserve robust protection from discrimination. Nothing justifies excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. Denying them the right to marry serves only to demean them and their children, to degrade the dignity of their families and to deny them the full, free and equal participation in American life to which every citizen is entitled.
As far as a breakdown by the nation's top cop is concerned, that's a pretty damn clear and forceful statement. Holder further asserted that same-sex marriage bans contribute to cultural homophobia, stigmatizing homosexual love and creating peer pressure to demean and denigrate such relationships.
The mental and emotional injuries are just as acute. A marriage ban written into state law broadcasts the state's view that same-sex couples and their children are second-class families, undeserving of the rights and protections offered to opposite-sex couples. It creates a stigma that pervades society, encouraging individuals to harass or belittle even their loved ones because of pressures brought by their community. And it harms relationships between family members by perpetuating a destructive notion that some individuals — and some children — should be shown less love and support simply because of who they are. That is a view the Department of Justice flatly rejects. And with our brief, we will make clear that the United States stands firmly on the side of equality.
The Human Rights Campaign has lauded Holder's remarks, and the DOJ's decision to file this brief, and that comes as little surprise. It was just months ago that Holder headlined the HRC's 2014 national dinner, delivering a strong speech in support of equality. It's entirely possible that this issue — along with his straightforward candor on America's tortured, wary relationship with matters of race — will go down as his foremost legacy as Attorney General. And frankly, that's a pretty good legacy to leave behind.
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