NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- President Barack Obama has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriages, as he has determined the law is unconstitutional.

Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday stating the president was instructing the Justice Department to stop defending Section 3 of the law, which defines marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman.

"After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, 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,"

Holder said in a statement

.

"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. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President's determination," Holder said.

He added that "much of the legal landscape has changed" since Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. In the past few years, the Supreme Court has determined that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional and the Congress repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

--

Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston.

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