U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested on Thursday that an upcoming House hearing on “defending marriage” is a “legitimate” use of U.S. government funds as the subcommittee confirmed that witnesses who are set to testify include anti-gay activists.
During a news conference, Boehner made the remarks in response to a question from the Washington Blade on whether he supports the planned hearing, which is set to take place Friday before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, and if he thinks the event is an appropriate use of federal resources.
“There are a lot of committees, a lot of hearings,” Boehner said. “As I made it clear from the beginning of this year, the committee process is important to this institution, and I think addressing any question — serious question — in American society is legitimate.”
Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said in response to Boehner’s remarks that the upcoming hearing will “no doubt showcase the [Republican] majority’s obsession with ensuring continued discrimination against same-sex couples.”
“They’re welcome to think that’s a legitimate way to spend their time but the vast majority of Americans will be scratching their heads wondering why House Republicans have held a third hearing in as many weeks to demonize LGBT people,” Cole-Schwartz said.
Cole-Schwartz was counting two earlier hearings that House committees held to oversee implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as anti-gay hearings and the upcoming testimony on “defending marriage” as the third anti-gay hearing this year.
Also on Thursday, the committee made public the names of the three witnesses who were set to testify, which include two witnesses with a history of anti-gay views. The background of the scheduled anti-gay witnesses lends credence to speculation that the hearing — which is set to begin at 10 am in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building — will be hostile to same-sex marriage.
Capitol Hill observers say the expect the hearing to be critical of President Obama’s announced decision on Feb. 23 to drop defense of the Defense of Marriage Act against litigation in court. Boehner has since directed the House general counsel to take up defense of the anti-gay law.
The most high-profile scheduled witness is Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage, who has previously testified before Congress against same-sex marriage and has a history of anti-gay activism. She didn’t respond on short notice to the Blade’s request to comment for this article.
Another expert who’s scheduled to speak is Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of center’s program on the constitution, the courts, and the culture. A former law clerk to U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and a high-ranking legal adviser in the Justice Department for former President George W. Bush, Whelan has written several anti-gay tracts as a scholar at the center.
Whelan, who didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to discuss his testimony, has been critical of the Obama administration for what he said is not vigorously defending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” against litigation in court and — in essay titled “The Most Egregious Performance Ever by a Federal District Judge” — found fault with U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision last year that determining that Proposition 8 in California was unconstitutional.
“Walker’s course of conduct would be sufficient cause for national scandal in any case,” Whelan wrote. “That it comes in a case that aims to radically remake the central social institution of American society makes it utterly intolerable.”
But another scheduled witnesses at the hearing, Carlos Ball, a gay law professor at Rutgers Law School, told the Blade he plans to argue in his testimony that Obama rightfully determined that DOMA is unconstitutional and that the president shouldn’t defend the law in court.
“It is unusual for an administration to decide not to defend the constitutionality of the statute, but it is by no means unprecedented,” Ball said. “The first President Bush did it; President George W. Bush did it as well. In my view, any administration has a constitutional obligation to make an independent judgment on the constitutionality of certain statutes, especially when there is no clear law on whether the statutes are constitutional or not.”
Additionally, Ball said he plans to testify that DOMA is a “constitutionally indefensible statute” because the states have traditionally enjoyed the prerogative of regulating marriage.
“What the plaintiffs in these DOMA lawsuits are saying is not that they have a federal constitutional right to marry — that’s not the issue,” Ball said. “These couples are already married under the laws of their states. What that their arguing is that the federal government should not discriminate against their marriages when it comes to federal governments. The administration has concluded that it’s unconstitutional to treat differently, and I think they’re absolutely correct.”
Ball is the author of numerous pro-LGBT scholarly works, including “The Right to be Parents: How LGBT Mothers and Fathers Have Revolutionized Family Law,” ”From the Closet to the Courtroom: Five LGBT Rights Cases That Have Changed Our Nation” and “The Morality of Gay Rights: An Exploration in Political Philosophy.”
Even the Republicans who are members of the subcommittee have a history of anti-gay views. In an interview with Think Progress, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chair of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, has said Obama and Holder could impeached over the decision and that he would favor defunding the Justice Department if it doesn’t defend DOMA.
Other subcommittee members include Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has initiated to congressional effort to eliminate same-sex marriage in D.C., and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has repeatedly made anti-gay remarks said gays wouldn’t face discrimination if they didn’t wear their “sexuality on their sleeve.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), ranking Democrat of the subcommittee, said he hasn’t had any conversations with Franks on what he wants to accomplish with the hearing, but plans to attend and expects hostility against the Obama administration.
“This is a hearing really on the administration’s decision not to defend DOMA in court,” Nadler said. “I think [Franks is] trying to dramatize his position — that the administration is doing a terrible thing by not defending the law.”
Nadler said proponents of Obama’s decision are prepared to make the point that Obama rightly dropped defense of DOMA because the statute targets married same-sex couples for discrimination.
“I think we’re going to make the point that although it’s unusual, it’s not unprecedented,” Nadler said. “In fact, it’s required when the administration’s legal people decide — as they have in this case on good legal grounds — that the law is indefensible constitutionally.”