02/25/2014 10:58 am ET Updated Feb 25, 2014

Eric Holder: State Attorneys General Should Be 'Suspicious' Of Gay Marriage Bans

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged state attorneys general to be "suspicious" of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation on Tuesday, pointing to some state officials who have decided not to defend bans on same-sex marriage in their states.

The decision not to defend an individual law "must be exceedingly rare" and "reserved only for exceptional circumstances," Holder told the National Association of Attorneys General on Tuesday, adding that such decisions must be based on "firm" constitutional grounds.

"But in general, I believe we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation," Holder said. "And we must endeavor in all of our efforts to uphold and advance the values that once led our forebears to declare unequivocally that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity."

From Holder's speech:

This bedrock principle is immutable. It is timeless. And it goes to the very heart of what this country has always stood for -- even though, as centuries of advancement in the cause of civil rights have shown, our understanding of it evolves over time. As I said just after the administration's decision on DOMA was announced, America's most treasured ideals were not put into action or given the full force of law in a single instant. On the contrary: Our ideals are continually advanced as our justice systems -- and our Union -- are strengthened; and as social science, human experience, legislation and judicial decisions expand the circle of those who are entitled to the protections and rights enumerated by the Constitution.

Though Holder's Q&A with state attorneys general has been open to the press in past years, Justice Department public affairs officials escorted journalists out of the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton following Holder's scripted address.


Eric Holder In The Hot Seat
Eric Holder In The Hot Seat