US President Barack Obama has given the clearest signal yet that his administration won’t stand in the way of same-sex marriage, yesterday announcing that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — which defines marriage as between a man and a woman — is unconstitutional.

In a turnaround of the Obama administration’s previous position of defending Section 3, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr said the Justice Department would not pursue two cases currently before courts in which states have ruled to allow same-sex marriage, in conflict with federal law.

“In the two years since this Administration took office, the Department of Justice has defended Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act on several occasions in federal court,” Holder said in a statement.

“After careful consideration … the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny.

“The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.”

The decision means the Justice Department will no longer defend DOMA in cases, for instance, where states implement laws allowing same-sex couples to marry, however, DOMA will remain in place until Congress repeals it or a final ruling in court strikes it down.

White House press secretary Jay Carney clarified that the decision not to pursue DOMA in court is “separate” from Obama’s personal views and the president is still “grappling” with the issue of same-sex marriage.

The US Family Research Council has spoken out against the change of position, saying the Obama administration is “dropping the ball” on the issue.

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