February 5, 2015 at 12:25 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Boehner: House GOP staying out of Supreme Court marriage cases
John Boehner, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner declined to weigh in on pending marriage cases before the Supreme Court. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday declined to offer his hopes for litigation seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples before the U.S. Supreme Court, but said he doesn’t expect House Republicans will weigh in on the issue.

“I don’t expect that we’re going to weigh in on this,” Boehner said. “The court will make its decision and that’s why they’re there, to be the highest court in the land.”

Boehner, an opponent of same-sex marriage, made the remarks in response to a question from the Washington Blade at his weekly news conference a month after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the litigation, which includes a lawsuit challenging the state law in Boehner’s own state of Ohio.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said Boehner’s remarks were “definitely encouraging.”

“I wish the president would show as much deference to the House as the House is showing to the Supreme Court,” Angelo said. “Bigger picture: Republican leadership is keenly aware that fiscal and jobs issues are the reason the GOP won record electoral victories last November, and continuing that focus will be the priority of the House.”

The lack of intervention anticipated by Boehner stands in contrast to actions from House Republicans when the marriage issue was previously before the courts.

In 2011, after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges in court, Boehner convened a meeting of the Republican-controlled Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which voted 3-2 on a party-line basis to take up defense of the law.

At a total cost of $2.3 million, BLAG paid Paul Clement, a former solicitor general under the Bush administration, to defend DOMA in various district and appellate courts as well as before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately struck down the law despite his efforts.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said House Republicans made a “commendable decision” not to participate in the marriage cases this time around and called it “a real step forward” after defending DOMA in court.

“Their evolution reflects the momentum for the freedom to marry nationwide, as well as the quiet hope of most Republican officials and operatives that the Supreme Court will rule in our favor and bring the country to national resolution, thereby rescuing them from their prior stance against the freedom to marry,” Wolfson said. “They know their past pandering to part of their base is way out of step not only with a majority of the American people and independents, but with Republicans under 50 and even with young Evangelicals.”

While Boehner said House Republicans won’t weigh in on pending marriage litigation, House Democrats are poised to speak out in favor of marriage equality.

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said his boss and other key Democrats will file a friend-of-court brief before the Supreme Court.

“Leader Pelosi will be joining Reps. Nadler and Conyers in leading an amicus [brief] to the court in support of marriage equality for every loving couple regardless of where they live,” Hammill said. “We are pleased that, after Speaker Boehner has spent $2.5 million in taxpayer dollars unsuccessfully intervening in the federal courts, he has abandoned his efforts to discriminate against LGBT families.”

In a statement to the Blade, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act in the U.S. Senate, said the upcoming brief would be signed by members of both the House and Senate.

“I look forward to working with Congressman Nadler and Leader Pelosi on a bicameral amicus brief to protect the marriage rights of same-sex couples,” Feinstein said.

That would be similar to the friend-of-the-court brief signed by 212 House and Senate Democrats in favor of striking down DOMA when the lawsuit was pending before the Supreme Court.

The deadline for filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of same-sex couples in these cases is March 6. Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has already said the Obama administration will file a brief in the case arguing on behalf of marriage rights “for all Americans.”

The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on Boehner’s remarks.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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