Same-sex couples received an important endorsement on Wednesday from President Barack Obama: The administration and its Department of Justice will no longer make the legal argument that the federal government does not recognize same sex marriages.
Federal refusal to recognize gay marriage costs same-sex couples thousands of dollars each year, because those couples cannot file joint income tax returns, and do not qualify for the same "surviving spouse" benefits enjoyed by straight couples, according to professor Barbara Cox of Cal-Western Law School.
The statute that denies federal recognition of state gay marriages is called the "Defense of Marriage Act."
Until now, the Obama administration has supported that statue against legal challenges from gay rights groups. But on Wednesday, the President essentially said that times have changed, and same-sex unions deserve more recognition.
Conservative members of Congress who support the Defense of Marriage Act can try to continue the court fight, but Cox is not sure if judges will grant them "standing" to make those legal arguments, said Cox.
The President's decision to abandon an important aspect of the Defense of Marriage Act will play well with his liberal supporters, said professor Carole Kennedy.
Kennedy, who teaches at San Diego State, says voters who oppose same-sex marriage were very unlikely to vote for Obama anyway. She also says same-sex marriage and gay rights are not the powerful "wedge issues" that they were in the 2004 presidential election.