The Obama administration distanced itself Monday from legal arguments it had made earlier this summer, taking pains to remove and renounce language that had outraged advocates in the gay community in a case that centers on the constitutionality of a gay-marriage law.
In a filing by the Justice Department, administration lawyers made clear for the first time in court that the president thinks the 13-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, which denies benefits to domestic partners of federal employees and allows states to reject same-sex marriages performed in other states, discriminates against gays and should be repealed.
A lawsuit challenging the law, which is proceeding in a district court in California, became a touchstone this summer after leaders of the Human Rights Campaign and other prominent advocacy groups for gays and lesbians complained to the White House.
Under decades of bipartisan tradition, the Justice Department is obliged to defend statutes passed by Congress, regardless of the political imperatives of the president. But gay activists registered their pique after government lawyers filed a brief in June that included language that appeared to equate same-sex marriage with incest and pedophilia. The lawyers also wrote that heterosexual marriage is "the traditional and universally recognized form."
Neither argument appears in a followup brief the Justice Department filed Monday. And, in an unusual turn, President Barack Obama issued a statement Monday affirming that he would continue to seek repeal of the law, which has been upheld by federal judges in Florida and Washington state.