SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal officials no longer plan to contest joint bankruptcy pleadings brought by legally married same-sex couples, a Department of Justice spokeswoman said Friday.
The Obama administration's recent position is that the federal law forbidding government recognition of same-sex unions is unconstitutional. Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that government lawyers decided this week that letting gay and lesbian couples jointly petition for bankruptcy protection is consistent with that stance.
"The Department of Justice has informed bankruptcy courts that it will no longer seek dismissal of bankruptcy petitions filed jointly by same-sex debtors who are married under state law," Schmaler said.
The policy shift stemmed from a case involving two California men who got married during the brief period in 2008 before the state's voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.
The U.S. trustee in initially fought Gene Balas and Carlos Morales' shared Chapter 13 plan on the grounds that the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibited it. But 20 of the 24 bankruptcy judges in Los Angeles took the unusual step of disagreeing and ruled last month that the act violated the couple's civil rights.
Trustee Peter Anderson subsequently appealed, maintaining Obama had ordered government lawyers to defend the ban "unless and until" Congress repeals the act or there is a final judicial ruling striking it down.
But he withdrew his objections in a written filing Wednesday that noted that even a U.S. House of Representatives group that has stepped in to defend the marriage act's constitutionality in other pending cases had decided against taking part in a challenge to the ruling in Morales and Balas' case.
"In light of the decision by the (Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group) not to participate in this appeal and the availability of other judicial for a for resolution of the constitutional question, the United States Trustee has determined that it is not a necessary or appropriate expenditure of the resources of this court and the parties to continue to litigate the appeal," Anderson's office wrote.
Even before the Justice Department arrived at its position this week, another bankruptcy trustee in San Diego already had cited the administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in a written request to withdraw her opposition to the bankruptcy pleading of another married gay couple, Guy Foti and David Jester II, of Oceanside.
Obama's stance on DOMA also was cited this week by a federal appeals court in San Francisco that ordered the Pentagon to immediately stop enforcing the 17-year-old law that prohibits gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the armed forces.
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