March 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Boehner convenes bipartisan panel to defend DOMA

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (Blade photo by Michael Key).

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday that he’s convening a meeting of a bi-partisan group of lawmakers to determine the best way forward for Congress to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

“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.

The five-member group consists of the House speaker, the majority leader, the majority whip, the minority leader and the minority whip. According to the speaker’s office, the advisory group under House rules can instruct the non-partisan office House General Counsel to take legal action on behalf of the House.

Boehner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on when the panel would meet or what possible outcomes of the meeting would be.

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would no longer defend DOMA in court and sent a letter to Congress informing lawmakers of the Justice Department’s decision. The move left the decision on whether to continue defense DOMA in court to Congress. 

Litigation filed against the statute in the Second Circuit — where there’s no precedent for laws related to sexual orientation — allowed the administration to conclude the DOMA is unconstitutional and to call on the court to examine the law with heightened scrutiny.

In the statement, Boehner also took a dig at the Obama administration for changing its position on the constitutionality of DOMA when Americans want the government to focus on deficit reduction and job creation.

“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,” Boehner said. “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.”

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to a request to comment on Boehner’s plans or his statement. Administration officials have said the new lawsuits filed against DOMA in the Second Circuit — Pedersen v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management and Windsor v. United States — forced the president’s hand to re-evaluate the constitutionality of the statute.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said DOMA has long raised consitutional questions — noting her vote against the measure on the House floor in 1996 — and said she opposes the Boehner’s effort “to put the House in the position of defending this indefensible statute.”

“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,” Pelosi said. 

Pelosi added Boehner’s decision burdens the staff and monetary resources of the Office of the General Counsel and “will cost the House hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of National Log Cabin Republicans, said Boehner should remain focused on economic issues facing the country and avoid “the bait” of defending DOMA in court.

“Americans sent Republicans to Congress to address our challenging economy, and thus far, under Speaker Boehner’s leadership our party has kept its eye on the ball, cutting spending and beginning to confront the deficit,” Cooper said. “Now is not the time to fall for the president’s ploy to distract Republicans with divisive social issues like the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Cooper said Log Cabin believes that DOMA is an unconstitutional intrusion on states’ rights and a violation of individual liberty, but also agrees with Speaker Boehner that the constitutionality of this statute should be determined by the courts and not by the president unilaterally.

“The speaker’s decision to retain counsel through an administrative action ensures that the House floor can keep its focus on spending cuts and not be bogged down with unnecessary distractions,” Cooper said.

Meanwhile, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, chided Boehner for taking on the role of defending DOMA’s constitutionality in court.

“House Republican leadership has now shown they’re more interested in scoring cheap political points on the backs of same-sex couples than tackling real problems,” Solmonese said. “As families across the country continue to struggle, the House Republican leadership’s prescription is to keep families they don’t like from accessing needed protections.”

Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, said her organization will shortly release a statement on Boehner’s decision, but in the interim said she can say she’s “pleased and grateful.”

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

  • Can Boehner and the Republicans in the House take action without the consent of the Senate? Don’t they need both chambers approval to challenge the federal court’s decision that DOMA is unconstitutional? Harry Reid needs to send a letter to the court saying the senate will not challenge the court’s ruling or be a party to the suit defending DOMA.

  • Now, I hope the kapos at GOProud are very happy with themselves.

  • ooper said Log Cabin believes that DOMA is an unconstitutional intrusion on states’ rights and a violation of individual liberty, but also agrees with Speaker Boehner that the constitutionality of this statute should be determined by the courts and not by the president unilaterally
    If G.W. Bush and his administration could unilaterally refuse to sign into law legislation like The Matthew Shepard Act or ENDA on the grounds that such laws were unconstitutional when that should be determined by the SCOTUS then why can’t Obama do the same when it comes to DOMA? Where was Log Cabin let alone any Republicans objection back then on the President’s or his administrations rights to make such determinations? At least Obama was a constitutional lawyer and knows what he’s talking about unlike conservatives! The hypocrisy and double-standards are so obviously is makes you want to hurl!

  • It seems that people in the gay community are as singularly ignorant of what’s going on as the Teabaggers and fundy asswipes. The President did not…repeat NOT say he would not continue to enforce DOMA. He said he was convinced the law in part is unconstitutional and would not defend it before the courts. Defend and enforce are not the same things. When the current Chief Justice was a part of the Justice Dept in the GHW Bush administration he decided not to defend a law before the court and even wrote an amicus curia brief urging the court to find it unconstitutional.

    Everyone needs to stop listening to the bullshit from the wingnut religious assholes.

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