Last month, the Department of Justice’s Trustee for California appealed a U.S. Bankruptcy Court ruling, which found that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The decision seemed inconsistent with the DOJ’s announcement in February to no longer defend DOMA, but the department explained that it was a procedural move in case the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) — a council convened by House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) to intervene in DOMA cases — wished to pursue the appeal. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced that the House would intervene in the DOMA cases the DOJ no longer pursued. Now that BLAG has indicated it will not defend DOMA in this particular case, the trustee has withdrawn its appeal.
Though the authority of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court is limited, this decision ensures that married same-sex couples will be recognized in bankruptcy proceedings. DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told Metro Weekly that this constituted a new policy:
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.
In addition to not defending DOMA, the DOJ is also opposing BLAG’s efforts to intervene on its behalf. Last week, the DOJ filed a brief supporting the case of Karen Golinski, who sued to secure equal health benefits for her wife. Taking a stance against BLAG’s appeal, the brief called for heightened scrutiny to apply to sexual orientation.