Obama's Rejection of DOMA Brings Usual Labeling Slant: 'Conservatives' vs. 'Advocates'

The paper greeted the news the Obama administration had decided the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional with big lead-story play and predictable labeling imbalance, presenting supporters of Obama's decision as gay rights advocates while opponents were conservatives or coming from the right."
Thursday's paper led with a two-column story on the Obama administration reversing the government's official position and determining that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act - which barred the federal government from recognizing gay marriage - is unconstitutional. Charlie Savage and Sheryl Gay Stolberg penned "In Turnabout, U.S. Says Marriage Act Blocks Gay Rights - A Decision by Obama That Could Reach Far Beyond the Law at Issue."

The paper greeted the news with predictable labeling imbalance. While the Times presented supporters of the decision as "gay rights advocates" or failed to characterize the groups at all (e.g., the ACLU), opponents were "conservatives" or were coming "from the right" ideologically.

President Obama, in a striking legal and political shift, has determined that the Defense of Marriage Act - the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages - is unconstitutional, and has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court, the administration said Wednesday.


Conservatives denounced the shift, gay rights advocates hailed it as a watershed, and legal scholars said it could have far-reaching implications beyond the marriage law. For Mr. Obama, who opposes same-sex marriage but has said repeatedly that his views are "evolving," there are political implications as well. Coming on the heels of his push for Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law barring the military from allowing gay people to serve openly, the administration's move seems likely to intensify the long-running cultural clash over same-sex marriage as the 2012 political campaign is heating up.

"This is a great step by the Obama administration and a tipping point for the gay rights movement that will have ripple effects in contexts beyond the Defense of Marriage Act," said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It will reach into issues of employment discrimination, family recognition and full equality rights for lesbian and gay people."

But some conservatives questioned Mr. Obama's timing and accused him of trying to change the subject from spending cuts to social causes. Others portrayed the Justice Department's abandonment of the Defense of Marriage Act as an outrageous political move that was legally unjustified.


But the move also sharpened criticism of Mr. Obama from the right. Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said the shift was "clearly based more on politics than the law."

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