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(New York) - President Barack Obama's decision to contest the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is an important and welcome step on the path to repealing this discriminatory law, Human Rights Watch said today.

Under DOMA, the US government denies recognition of same-sex marriages and federal benefits that are conferred upon married couples. The federal law contradicts decisions by an increasing number of US states to recognize same-sex marriage under their state laws. Section 3 of DOMA defines "marriage" as only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

In a February 23, 2011 letter to US House Speaker John Boehner, Attorney General Eric Holder explained that the Obama administration takes the position that legislation such as DOMA, which discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, should be subjected to a heightened standard of constitutional review, and will not defend DOMA in pending cases before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  

"Obama's recognition that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional is a nail in the law's coffin, but only a nail," said Boris O. Dittrich, acting director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Congress should urgently repeal this law, which is an affront not only to same-sex married couples, but to the states that wish to recognize marriage equality."

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