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EXCLUSIVE: Justice by Any Other Name

Eric Holder

Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in an exclusive interview, discusses marriage equality

It is wonderfully surprising, if not slightly ironic, that the greatest political proponents of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans are two heterosexual, African-American men--namely, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama.

This week, in an op-ed published in USA Today,Attorney General Eric Holder wrote:

"Nothing justifies excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. Denying them the right to marry serves only to demean them and their children, to degrade the dignity of their families and to deny them the full, free and equal participation in American life to which every citizen is entitled."

His words relay a fundamental humanistic understanding of the pervasive "otherness" and "exclusion" with which LGBT Americans are always and everywhere forced to contend. In 2011, Holder announced the Obama Administration would no longer defend DOMA--a decision that led to the landmark Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsorand subsequently to marriage equality in 37 out of 50 states.

His support for marriage equality has been clear. But as he prepares to vacate the office, Holder has decided to go even further in his support than any other high-level government official in history by announcing the DOJ will file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court flatly denouncing state-wide bans on same-sex marriage as being a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution's 14th Amendment.

Holder's impassioned argument underlies the greater truth that gay rights are civil rights. He asserts that same-sex marriage state bans contribute to homophobia throughout American culture by stigmatizing love between gay couples and thereby creating an environment which is inherently separate and unequal. In an interview with Out Attorney General Eric Holder explained the importance of the Supreme Court brief and why the time for marriage equality is now.

Eric Holder: Let me first speak as a lawyer. It is my view--it is our view--it is the Obama Administration's view that bans on same-sex marriage by the states are unconstitutional. And they violate the Equal Protection Clause of our Constitution. I could go through all the legal reasons why that is so--but what underlies that is the notion that we are brothers and sisters. That we are all Americans. We have the same desires. We have the same fears. And we should be treated the same in the eyes of the law.

This is something the United States has evolved on. When I started as Attorney General in 2009 there were only two states that recognized same sex marriage. Now there are 37. The Supreme Court has an opportunity to make that the law of the land, and our friend of the court brief will say that. And say that these state bans are simply inconsistent with who we say we are as a nation.

We could continue to talk about this in terms of theory and the law, which is obviously important, but on a personal level this is about people. And it's about families.

I have a folder of pictures of DOJ employees--members of DOJ Pride, our LGBT organization--and it's pictures of their families, them having babies, on their way to their weddings, and celebrating their marriages. And in a fundamental way this is what this struggle is all about. It's about human beings: my fellow employees, my colleagues. It's about doing things that are consistent with who we say we are as a nation.

It's taken us to the 21st Century to get to this point, but I'm proud of where we are as an administration. I'm proud of where I am as Attorney General of the United States. And I'm proud of where I am as an African-American man."

Hearings are scheduled to begin on April 28. The Supreme Court is expected to announce their decision in June, which is also LGBT Pride Month.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a television producer, correspondent and columnist. He is contributing editor at The Root and has appeared on Al Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CNN, ARISE, CBS and national syndicated radio. He tweets at @WyckoffWilliams

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Edward Wyckoff Williams