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Justice department devalues the use of DOMA in bankruptcy court

Joint bankruptcy petitions filed by legally married same-sex couples will no longer be rejected by the U.S. Justice Department, according to a recent Reuters report. The federal government's decision to step back comes after months of pressure from Washington officials to no longer use the Defense of Marriage Act to suppress gay couples in bankruptcy.

The push to get rid of DOMA, a 1996 federal policy that defines a legal marriage as one only between a man and a woman, began in February when the Obama administration declared it would no longer support the Defense of Marriage Act and, in turn, would stop defending its constitutionality.

Until recently, most notably in cases of same-sex joint bankruptcies, the Justice Department had been slow to follow the directive. However, in a recent surprise move, the Justice Department formally removed an objection from a high-profile California case of a legally married gay couple who sought joint bankruptcy protection.

The judge in the case, along with 20 other federal bankruptcy judges who signed the opinion, declared DOMA to be unconstitutional. Earlier this year, the federal government introduced DOMA to prevent another same-sex couple's bankruptcy from taking place, saying their marriage was not recognized by federal standards, even if it was a legal marriage under state law. That objection has since been withdrawn.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said the federal department would "stop filing motions to dismiss bankruptcy petitions" for same-sex married couples as a way to cut back on costs and time defending the increasingly unpopular act.

Source: Reuters, "U.S. shifts policy on same-sex bankruptcies," Terry Baynes, 8 July 2011

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