House Speaker John Boehner announced plans Friday afternoon to defend the Defense of Marriage Act on behalf of Congress, filling the legal void left by the White House’s decision to drop its support for portions of the law.
“I will convene a meeting of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group for the purpose of initiating action by the House to defend this law of the United States, which was enacted by a bipartisan vote in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton,” Boehner said in a statement. “It is regrettable that the Obama Administration has opened this divisive issue at a time when Americans want their leaders to focus on jobs and the challenges facing our economy. The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts — not by the president unilaterally — and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution.”
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory will include Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy as well as Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, giving the GOP a clear majority to move forward with their own legal defense of the law. The Justice Department announced last week that it had determined sections of DOMA barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states that allow them were unconstitutional and that they would no longer fight legal efforts to overturn them. The law is still on the books, however, and it’s up to the courts to determine whether it will stand.
Pelosi criticized Boehner’s move in a statement Friday, saying she opposed “defending this indefensible statute.”
“President Obama took a bold step forward for civil rights and equality when he announced that the federal government would no longer argue to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act in court,” Pelosi said. “This legislation has long raised constitutional questions and has long been viewed as a violation of the equal protection clause. That’s why I voted against it on the floor, and that’s why I oppose Speaker Boehner’s effort to put the House in the position of.”
Pelosi added that “Aside from standing up for a discriminatory law and failing to focus on jobs and the economy, this action places Republicans squarely on the wrong side of history and progress” and would waste taxpayer dollars by bringing in the Office of the General Counsel to take over for the Justice Department in backing the law.
“This is nothing more than a distraction from our most pressing challenges, and Speaker Boehner should follow his own advice and work with Democrats to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, and responsibly reduce the deficit,” concluded Pelosi.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.