The Obama Administration declared Wednesday that it would no longer defend in court a 1996 law barring gays and lesbians from marrying, saying it now felt sections of the Defense of Marriage Act were unconstitutional.
Obama's about-face marks a major step forward for gay rights advocates, who had seethed at the administration's defense of the law in court cases—including a brief that invoked child rape and incest.
(The legal reasons for the 180-degree shift are fairly technical. Towleroad has an informative Q&A. Scroll down once you click over.)
The shift came after a long and passionate policy debate inside the White House addressed how to proceed with a variety of marriage equality cases being filed in the courts.
Wednesday's announcement does not mean the end of the Defense of Marriage Act—the law is still on the books. It does mean that members of Congress who intend to enforce the law will need to mount their own defense.
The Obama news overshadowed two other important developments in marriage equality: The Maryland Senate gave initial approval to a bill to allow gay marriage in that state. And lawyers seeking to overturn Prop 8, California's gay marriage ban, asked the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow marriages too proceed pending their appeal of a lower court decision. For good measure, the lawyers asked the court to speed up the process.