February 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Boehner panel appeals ruling against DOMA

A panel led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) filed a notice on Friday to appeal a district judge’s ruling against the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act to a higher court.

The three-page notice states that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House “respectfully appeals” the ruling earlier this week against the anti-gay law to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The notice doesn’t offer a reason for the grounds for appeal.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jeffery White — appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush — ruled against DOMA in the case of Golinski v. United States, saying the statute “unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples.” The decision announced on Friday appeals this decision to the Ninth Circuit.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at the Human Rights Campaign, called the appeal “unfortunate but to be expected” from Boehner and Republican leadership.

“The Republican House leadership clearly believes that continuing to deny committed gay and lesbian married couples the rights they so richly deserve is a part of their mission as elected officials,” Sainz said. “The fact that our hard earned tax dollars is paying for this folly is both insulting and demeaning to all LGBT people.”

The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group is made up of Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The notice of the appeals states that Pelosi and Hoyer “decline to support the filing of this notice of appeal.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, slammed House Republican leadership for its continued defense of DOMA in court.

“The District Court in Northern District of California flatly rejected the arguments of Speaker Boehner and his taxpayer-funded lawyers that insulted millions of Americans and their families,” Hammill said. “The court made it clear that there is no legitimate interest in denying a class of couples the rights and responsibilities guaranteed to married couples under state law.”

Hammill also took issue with the amount of money that Boehner devoted to defending the anti-gay law. Last year, the speaker bumped up the cost cap of defending DOMA to $1.5 million.

“Over the past year, the initial $500,000 in outside legal fees Speaker Boehner plans to spend has tripled to $1.5 million without any vote of the BLAG,” Hammill said. “That is a tremendous amount of taxpayer money expended, on a purely partisan basis, to defend discrimination.  With progress on marriage equality coming from all corners of our country, Speaker Boehner would have been better served and saved taxpayers’ money if he had more carefully reviewed the district court’s ruling and had declined to file a notice of appeal.”

The House took up defense of DOMA after the Obama administration announced last year that it would no longer defend the anti-gay law in court. A spokesperson for Boehner deferred comment to counsel on why the appeal was necessary, but lawyers working on behalf of the panel didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.

A White House spokesperson deferred comment to the Justice Department, which didn’t respond on short notice to comment on House leadership’s decision to appeal the decision.

Lambda Legal, along with Morrison & Foerster LLP, filed the case in 2008 on behalf of Karen Golinski, who was denied spousal health benefits by her employer, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Golinski has been partners with Amy Cunninghis for more than 20 years, and the two were legally married in 2008 under California law before Proposition 8 took away marriage rights for gay couples in the state.

Tara Borelli, a Lambda staff attorney, expressed confidence that the lower court ruling would stand up on appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

“We are confident Judge White’s thorough and well-reasoned decision will stand the test of time,” Borelli said. “We do not know what the grounds of this appeal may be, but one thing we do know: DOMA is doomed, and efforts to extend this discriminatory law, while not unexpected, serve only to harm loving couples and families.”


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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