Justice Dept. Officially Ceases DOMA Defense In Mass.

The U.S. Department of Justice told a Boston court that it will no longer defend a lawsuit in Massachusetts challenging the federal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

In a letter to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal government said it will "cease its defense" of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, but gay rights advocates and the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley say they're not sure what the letter means.

In Thursday night's letter, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West also told the court that the Justice Department "will continue to represent the interests of the United States."

Earlier this week, the Justice Department said it would stop defending DOMA, and indicated it would be sending a letter to the court in Boston.

Seventeen gay and lesbian residents of Massachusetts and Coakley have already won lawsuits striking down DOMA in a lower court.

But Janson Wu, an attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, says the Justice Department's letter does not necessarily mean that the government is dropping its appeal.

"The extent to which they will no longer defend DOMA's constitutionality is unclear at the moment," Wu said.


This program aired on February 25, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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