The U.S. Justice Department's decision effective Monday to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition demonstrates how far the Obama administration has come. The president has been a follower, not a leader, on gay marriage, but the White House has caught the wave and is now pushing down barriers in the top civil rights issue of the Obama years.
Attorney General Eric Holder revealed the new policy Saturday in a speech to the Human Rights Campaign in New York. Under the new policy, same-sex spouses will be eligible for workplace benefits, able to file for bankruptcy jointly and receive other privileges that had been denied them. This action will be of considerable benefit to same-sex couples using the court system to get privileges denied them in states like Ohio. Those states will now find themselves in violation of federal law.
The Justice Department has been criticized for its decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court cases but there is no defending the indefensible. A U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a provision of the act defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman destroyed the argument that Justice was obligated to defend the act and gave the administration the impetus it needed for Monday's action.
Massachusetts can be proud that it was the first state to allow gay marriages and that it proved over the past decade-plus that gay marriage poses no threat to the institution of marriage in particular or to society in general, overwrought predictions to the contrary. The office of Attorney General Martha Coakley was at the forefront of the challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Washington is now following the trail blazed by Massachusetts.