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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 28 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 09
State AGs not obligated to defend anti-Gay laws, Holder says
Section One
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State AGs not obligated to defend anti-Gay laws, Holder says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a gathering of state AGs that they are obligated 'to see that justice is done,' not to uphold state laws that discriminate against LGBT people.

In a speech to the National Association of Attorneys General on February 24, Holder said that 'the challenge that all justice professionals are called to address' is 'not merely to use our legal system to settle disputes and punish those who have done wrong, but to answer the kinds of fundamental questions - about fairness and equality - that have always determined who we are and who we aspire to be, both as a nation and as a people.'

Holder went on to describe how he and President Obama decided to stop defending DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) in federal court.

'As I've said before, this decision was not taken lightly,' Holder said.

'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. Last summer, the Supreme Court issued a historic decision - United States v. Windsor - striking down the federal government's ban on recognizing gay and lesbian couples who are legally married. This marked a critical step forward, and a resounding victory for equal treatment and equal protection under the law.'

Holder noted that state Attorneys General in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Virginia, and Oregon 'have reached similar determinations after applying heightened scrutiny to laws in their states concerning same-sex marriage.'

AGs in California and Illinois reached similar conclusions, and same-sex marriage is now legal in those states.

The issue of equality for LGBT people is one of 'the defining civil rights challenges of our time,' Holder added, likening it to racial desegregation.

'If I were attorney general in Kansas in 1953, I would not have defended a Kansas statute that put in place separate-but-equal facilities,' Holder later told a New York Times reporter.

Holder's comments drew criticism from some state officials.

'It really isn't his job to give us advice on defending our constitutions any more than it's our role to give him advice on how to do his job,' Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen told the New York Times.

'We are the ultimate defenders of our state constitutions - not the United States attorney general or the attorney general from another state,' he said, adding, 'It is our duty and obligation to defend them, or no one else will.'

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

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