President Obama Wednesday hailed the Supreme Court's ruling that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and immediately ordered Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to ensure that federal benefits are available to gay couples affected by the decision.
"I've directed the attorney general to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly," Mr. Obama said in a statement.
He called the now-voided 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton, "discrimination enshrined in law."
"It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people," Mr. Obama said of DOMA. "The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal — and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
The president, who released the statement while aboard Air Force One en route to Africa, came out last year in favor of gay marriage and had instructed the Justice Department not to defend the federal law in court cases. House Republicans stepped in to finance a defense of the law in court.
"This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents' marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better," Mr. Obama said.
The president said the case involves a "sensitive" issue, and said maintaining the nation's commitment to religious freedom "is also vital."
"How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions," the president said. "Nothing about this decision — which applies only to civil marriages — changes that."
He added, "The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free."
Mr. Obama telephoned two people from Air Force One to congratulate them on the rulings: Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case, and Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, who led the fight against California's Proposition 8.
The president told Ms. Windsor that he was "heartened" by the decision and believed it was "fitting" that the ruling came 10 years after the high court struck down laws making same-sex relationships illegal, said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
The president told Mr. Griffin that the decision in Proposition 8 was "a tremendous victory," Mr. Carney said.
Mr. Obama 'noted that although the court did not address the constitutionality of Proposition 8, today's ruling is a victory" for the plaintiffs in that case "and to all loving, committed couples in the state of California," Mr. Carney said.
The president told Mr. Griffin that the laws of the land are catching up to the fundamental truth of gay equality, Mr. Carney said.
Mr. Obama and his aides were following news of the Supreme Court's action on Air Force One but lost connectivity on the plane just as the decisions were being announced. Mr. Carney said the president and his team instead received the news instead in phone calls from White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler and other staffers in Washington.
"He was obviously pleased," Mr. Carney said of the president. "He believes that this is a very good day for civil rights in our country and was just glad to see the decisions come down as they did."
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