President Barack Obama announced last week that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act âÄî a surprise that reverberated on the University of Minnesota campus.
The DOMA of 1996 bans federal recognition of gay marriage. ObamaâÄôs move will reignite the debate for the 2012 presidential election.
Katie Engevik, a student administrative assistant at the Queer Student Cultural Center, said while the policy move is positive, itâÄôs long overdue.
âÄúI would say itâÄôs a conflicted reaction,âÄù she said.
ObamaâÄôs decision means other groups are likely to step up in defense of the act, though it is unclear which groups, University constitutional law professor Dale Carpenter said.
âÄúIt does make it somewhat more likely that the DOMA will be held unconstitutionalâÄù in the courts, he said. âÄúThat doesnâÄôt mean itâÄôs going to happen, or that itâÄôs guaranteed, it just means itâÄôs a lot more likely than it was [before the announcement].âÄù
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Obama concluded the 15-year-old act was legally indefensible.
Since Congress passed the act, five states and the District of Columbia have approved gay marriage.
Marriage law in the U.S. historically has been a matter left to the states, but the federal law barred recognition of same-sex marriages by the federal government.
Thus a same-sex married couple in Vermont could file a joint state tax return but had to file two separate U.S. tax forms.
âÄúThe longer range and wider impact of the decision is that it has now put the authority of the presidency behind the idea that ant-gay discrimination is unconstitutional,âÄù Carpenter said.
Other student groups at the University had mixed reactions.
Andrew Wagner vice-chairman of College Republicans, said the group believes it isnâÄôt ObamaâÄôs place to decide what is and isnâÄôt unconstitutional.
He said while the group doesnâÄôt necessarily align with the party on the issue of gay marriage, it believes the decision to decide what is unconstitutional should be left to the Supreme Court.
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group adviser Josh Winters said gay marriage is largely a generational issue.
Those 40 and older seem to be the only ones truly concerned about same-sex marriage, while those 30 and under seem to have dismissed it as an issue.
Winters said 20 to 30 years from now the issue will have evaporated, but for the time being MPIRG will continue to fight for gay marriage.
âÄúOur belief is that the GLBT community deserves equal rights across the board,âÄù Winters said. âÄúWe think any ability and/or attempt to restrict the rights of loving partners to be able to enter into a marriage relationship, from our position, is an unjust one.âÄù
Engevik is concerned that unless the act is repealed, future administrations will again defend the DOMA, which she says would be a step backward.
ObamaâÄôs decision to stop defending DOMA is âÄújust one more stepâÄù forward, she said.
âÄîThe Associated Press contributed to this report