March 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Pelosi, Hoyer rebuke Boehner for defending DOMA in veteran case

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

House Democratic leaders are continuing to criticize Speaker John Boehner for defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court and accuse him of going beyond his existing authority ahead of his planned intervention in a lesbian veteran’s litigation against the statute.

In a letter dated March 30, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) write to the speaker to express concern about Boehner intervening on behalf of DOMA in the case of Cooper-Harris v. United States.

“This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans,” Pelosi and Hoyer write. “The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security. They risk their lives for the country they love – and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love. These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.”

On Feb. 1, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the lawsuit against DOMA in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of Tracey Cooper-Harris, who’s seeking benefits as a disabled Army veteran her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris. The two were married in California in 2008 before Proposition 8 took effect.

Boehner’s attorney’s has yet to file the intervention, but the Washington Blade has obtained documents revealing their intent to intervene in the lawsuit. Informed sources are expecting a formal filing of the intervention next week.

Boehner will be defending not just DOMA in court, but Title 38, a law governing veteran benefits that as written precludes same-sex married couples from obtaining benefits. It’s the first time the speaker has elected to defend this statute in addition to DOMA.

In a letter last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress that the Obama administration would no longer defend portions of Title 38 related to same-sex couples as it has with DOMA.

It’s taking on defense of Title 38 that Pelosi and Hoyer belief are beyond Boehner’s authority. In the letter, the lawmakers request a formal Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group vote on defending Title 38 and ask that any extension of the existing legal contract receive prior examination by the Committee on House Administration and the House Ethics Committee.

Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesperson, issued a statement saying the speaker’s intervention in the case against Title 38 is aligned with House rules.

“It was determined through consultations with each office — the process used to make such decisions regularly under then-Speaker Pelosi — that a majority of the BLAG believes the constitutionality of this statute, which the Attorney General described as ‘identical in material respect to the language of Section 3 of DOMA,’ should be determined by the judicial branch, not through a unilateral decree of the President,” Buck said.

Tracey (left) & Maggie Cooper-Harris (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Tracey Cooper-Harris was diagnosed in 2010 with multiple sclerosis, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has determined is connected to her military service in Iraq and Afghanistan, She’s been receiving disability benefits as a veteran, but is unable to receive spousal benefits that she would otherwise be entitled to if she were in an opposite-sex marriage. Among them are disability benefits meant to ensure the financial stability of spouses.

Christine Sun, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said her organization is pleased House Democratic leaders are taking interest in its lawsuit.

“We are pleased that Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are getting involved in the Cooper-Harris case and standing with veterans,” Sun said. “It is astonishing that Rep. John Boehner and his colleagues are continuing this shameful crusade against our brave men and women in uniform and is nothing short of disgusting.”

After the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend DOMA in court last year, Boehner directed House General Counsel Kerry Kircher to defend the statute after BLAG voted 3-2 on a party-line basis to take up defense of the law.

According to Leader Pelosi’s office, the Cooper-Harris case marks the 12th time Boehner has intervened to defend. Earlier this week, officials testified this week that House defense of DOMA thus far has cost $742,000, although Boehner has raised the cost cap to $1.5 million.

The full text of Pelosi and Hoyer’s letter to Boehner follows:

March 30, 2012

The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of the House of Representatives
United States Capitol
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

Today, we were notified that the House, through outside counsel acting at your direction, has decided to intervene in a case challenging the constitutionality of laws denying federal benefits to military spouses on the basis of their sexual orientation.  As members of the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), who were not consulted prior to this unwise decision, we strongly object to spending taxpayer money to intervene in this case against a decorated veteran, Tracey Cooper-Harris, and her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris.  This decision clearly exceeds the scope of the original BLAG authorization, with which we initially disagreed.

This intervention once again puts the House of Representatives on the wrong side of the future – supporting discrimination, unfairness, and the denial of basic equality to all Americans.  We have objected to prior decisions by the House Republican BLAG members to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend discrimination.  This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans.   The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security.  They risk their lives for the country they love – and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love.  These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.

The plaintiffs in Cooper-Harris v. U.S. argue that federal law, including Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 U.S.C. § 7, and portions of the Veteran’s Benefits title of the United States Code, 38 U.S.C. § 101(3) and (31), denies them equal protection under the law by failing to uphold our promises to our servicemembers to care for them and their families.  We agree, and note that the U.S. Department of Justice has notified Congress that Section 3 of DOMA – as well as the definitional portions in Title 38 dealing with military and veterans’ benefits – “cannot be constitutionally applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law.”  We applaud the decision of the Attorney General against defending indefensible discrimination.

Federal district courts have already deemed DOMA unconstitutional, and the Justice Department will not defend the law.  We call upon the Republican members of the BLAG to rescind your unilateral decision to expand your defense of DOMA to cases involving veterans.  If you insist upon continuing this costly and wasteful use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds, we request: (a) a formal vote of the BLAG on extending your defense of discrimination to veterans and their families, and (b) any extension of the existing legal contract, any new contract, and any additional expenditure of public funds on behalf of outside counsel receive full prior examination by the Committee on House Administration and the House Ethics Committee.

We look forward to receiving your response to this and the several previous letters from House Democrats on this subject.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Best regards,


Democratic Leader          Democratic Whip

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

  • I’m no longer affiliated with either party…I’m 55 and a Vet…I applaud anyone who stands against homosexual marriage and behavior…I’m also in favor of expelling any government officials who advance the homosexual agenda…the citizenary has a duty to dismantled and or engage in civil disobiedence wherever homosexual marriage and or behavior are illegally mandated as a civil right. It is not, at all. I’m not speaking hatefully as much as I’m speaking very very strongly in opposition to it. And if I’m correct, the overwhelming majority of states that now allow homosexual marriage and or promote it’s behavior are states where the people (group conscious) had the vote over turned thru legalistic trickery. We all know that Law is perverted. There are those who know how to exert the right kind of pressure to bend court decisions thru bribery and or political extortion. So in no way can or should it be presented that homosexual marriage or behavior is acceptable or becoming more so. In this regard I’m pleased that Russia and China will not bow to international political coercion to accept or endorse homosexual marriage. Also Im ashamed our President dares to voice and through the weight of the Presidency behind it. So much concerned in guarding and protecting sexual conduct…So, at all costs I’m in league with any and all means to maintain a homosexual free society, i.e., no legal marriage or civil unions. It is a choice that if one makes that’s fine…but those who make it are engaged in an act defined as ill moral and no civil right of marriage is to be extended. Those who condone it are equally ill moral. This is not being homophobic. This is being appropriately distanced and apart from. I’m sure there are very nice alcoholics and addicts…but I can’t be part of it and enable them. I’m sure there are very very nice and intelligent, banks robbers (like white color criminals on wall street) but I cannot knowingly associate with them and enable or condone the behavior…same with murders, and the whole gambit. Quit the reverse. To be homosexual is to be accutely heterophobic. The real course of action here should be putting all that psychoanalysis power we have over the homosexual and examine closely where in each homosexuals past did they cross the line…what trauma was experienced such that a man or woman would turn from the natural to the un natural use of the body…THIS IS EXACTLY WHERE A 12 STEP PROGRAM could be useful. For we are suppose to be a Nation under God…we have veered of the course…sexual obsession has creeped into every fabric of society…music is outta control with explicitness…TV, movies commercials alike…sex is not, let alone homosexuality, something that high school and junior high school students should be even concerned with or taught that it’s perfectly fine. It is not. Homosexuality is something to heal from. It is not to be something promoted as acceptable.
    So, I said to much and yet not enough.
    But I’m serious about the expelling thing.

    • I think Homophobic bigots like you need to be expelled from this country. I am a 49 year old Vet. Who served his country and was Honorably Discharged from service. And I am GAY!!! And damn proud of it. You have your narrowminded bigoted opinion. Its time you kept it to yourself. I am an American citizen. I pay my taxes. I DEMAND to Marry someone of my choosing. And not a damn soul has the right to take away my freedoms. So go back under the bigoted rock you crawled out from under. Because I for one am not being silent anymore.

    • How can you compare a homosexual with a murderer or a bank robber? Do you know any homosexual people? Have you engaged in dialogue with them? Have you read any material on the subject that is not from a propaganda producing source? Dude – seriously. Get informed. There never has been or never will be such a thing as a “homosexual free society.” Its a scientific fact that about 10% of the population in every culture and every society are purely attracted to the same sex. In asking or arguing for a homosexual free society, you are doing so out of a misinformed position.

      And in regards to teaching sex education in JH and HS, seriously?! These students are pumped full of sexual hormones and you think it is wise to not inform and educate them about what is going on with their bodies and how to respond to these changes in physically and emotionally healthy ways??? What planet do you live on???

    • Why are you posting such homophobic garbage on a gay website? Why do you even *visit* a gay website?

    • 1. This is the very definition of homophobic. You fear the growth and prominence of homosexuality in what you are assuming is YOUR society. You have disgust for the behavior and wish to deny those who are homosexual a part of their identity because you simply don’t like it. Let’s not pretend you aren’t something that you are.

      2. Homosexuality has been psychoanalyzed and researched for quite some time, and in case you were wondering, was taken OUT of the DSM back in 1974 (almost 40 years ago). All highly credible psychology organizations agree that is it not a mental disorder and the “12 step program” that you suggest (i.e. ex-gay therapy) DOES NOT WORK. It is unnecessary and actually CAUSES psychological damage to the individual.

      3. Not all people who have a different sexual orientation have had anything traumatic happen to them. Most grow up in loving, caring families without any real struggles that would cause them to “veer off the path” in any way. It’s also important to note that those AGAINST the LGBTQIA community put the MOST emphasis on the sexual aspect of individuals who are not straight. You do realize that there are plenty of people who have same-sex attractions that do not engage in sexual activity willy nilly. There are several LGBTQIA people who are religious and which to wait until marriage, just like a portion of heterosexuals do. There is absolutely no difference between a homosexual person and a heterosexual person, except for with whom they happen to fall in love.

      4. I hope that you find true enlightenment some day and let go of the hatred and fear you carry in your heart because those are terrible burdens to bear. I’m assuming that you are religious simply because you mentioned God, and no matter what that religion may be, there is one thing that remains a truth in all of them: Treat all people with respect and love. There is only one judge when it comes to life matters, and it’s not you.

  • Wow ME, that’s quite a long comment (too long to read in detail btw)…seems to me you have some kind of chip on your shoulder…perhaps some repressed feelings?? I have a newsflash – you are not the Almighty – you have no business in my taxes, in my healthcare, in my childcare, nor in my bedroom. Don’t like it? TFB!

  • There was some concern a while back as to whether Boehner had violated the law by signing a contract with Clements without an appropriation. Has this changed? Does anyone know the status of this?

  • Me, you got some SERIOUS problems. I wonder how you would feel if you had gay and lesbian children? Or perhaps gay and lesbian aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins. Which you may actually have but who are so afraid of your rhetoric to ever tell you. You mention all of the things that are ostensibly wrong with homosexuality, by equating them to being alcoholics, drug addicts, and even murderers. Are you kidding me? You clearly don’t know any gay or lesbians, so how in the world can you speak with any factual accuracy about what they are like as a group. And if THAT is so, then you everything that you have to say on the issue is completely ignorant and thus invalid. We are NOT a nation under God. Have you read the First Amendment’s actual language? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”. “God” is never mentioned anywhere in there, only religion AND the fact that it is NOT the role OF THE GOVERNMENT to establish or interfere with people’s faith. What amazing me (beyond the historical amnesia that you display quite impressively) is that you mention you’re a veteran. This article is about a veteran with Multiple Sclerosis that THE MILITARY decided was related to her military service. Whether you like it or not, gays and lesbians have always been in the services; can now live openly in the services (and so far the military hasn’t hardly collapsed) and deserve equal treatment. How did that happen? CONGRESS VOTED TO APPROVE IT. As a veteran I’m completely appalled that you are now equating Russia and Communist China as nations to which we should look up to. Unbelievable. The APA, AMA and all the major health professional organizations have (since the 1970s) agreed that homosexuality is a normal variation found in the human species. But that fact which you ignore isn’t that surprising because you apparently have zero knowledge about the state of America’s youth which are far and away ahead of all of us about this issue. They have sex at earlier and earlier ages. It’s a fact, like it or not. Bemoaning the state of things today, does nothing to remedy that young adolescents ARE having sex and will find ways to experiment with their bodies. Something thinking that keeping them locked up, ignorant and inept about sexuality is a “good” thing, only illustrates the fundamental flaw in your entire argument – you are out of touch. I strongly suggest that you sit down with a group of teenagers from wherever you life and ask them some serious questions about sexuality to understand what our Nation’s future believe about personal autonomy. Clinging (as so many older people tend to do) with a death grip on the nostalgic view that American’s falling apart at the seems, reflects a complete lack of engagement with the very people who, in a decade or two, will be making decisions about OUR health care, OUR property rights, OUR future.

    M. Johnson Jr. Ph.D., Capt. USAF, 1993-1997 Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland AFB, TX

  • [EXPLETIVE REMOVED] web trolls man.

  • Dear Me,

    I would like to first and foremost apologize for my rather informal beginning. I would have much rather preferred to respond to your comment with your name and rank/title, such is only polite and appropriate, but as ‘Me’ was the only designation you deigned appropriate to assign your comment, I’m afraid my rather inappropriate opening must suffice.

    Secondly, I would like to thank you for you service to our country. I have, as a family member and friend to many active and retired service members, the utmost respect for those willing and able to serve in our armed forces. Again, thank you.

    That being said, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies for the terrible misinformation you have been given regarding the citizens of this county to whom you refer to as “the homosexual.” I am not implying that this unfortunate event is entirely your fault. Citizens of the world did believe, after all, that the world was flat for centuries and perpetuated this discrepancy until the truth was revealed to them. As such, I would like to extend an offer of assistance in clarifying some of the many inaccuracies in the information you have received and, sadly, repeated.

    Let’s begin with something rather simple. You’ve stated that, “To be homosexual is to be accutely (sic) heterophobic.”
    I would like to make sure that I am as thorough as possible, so I feel obligated to mention two grammatical items about your statement. You did misspell ‘acutely,’ but I felt it necessary to quote you exactly rather than have you feel misquoted in any manner. I’m more than comfortable in my belief that your misspelling was a simple keystroke error, however, so don’t beat yourself up about it later; it happens to the best of us, Me. Also, I would like to point out the high probability of ‘heterophobic’ not actually being a true word. Microsoft Word did not recognize it when I typed it in my program out of curiosity. I have, however, added it to my library on the off chance that my version of Word is not entirely up to date with today’s technical vernacular.

    I digress.

    Homosexuals are not, I am saddened to inform you, acutely heterophobic. There are some heterosexuals that homosexuals do have an aversion to and will avoid said heterosexuals if and when possible. These heterosexuals are referred to as ‘homophobes.’ I have also known such individuals to be referred to as ‘bigots,’ but keep in mind that not all bigotry is confined to homophobia, so please refrain from the mistake of also assuming all homophobes and bigots are one in the same. I can see how one may be able to construe the belief that homosexuals’ aversion to these particular heterosexuals could be applicable to all heterosexuals, but such a leap in assumption is incorrect.

    Homosexuals are, in fact, rather fond of heterosexuals. Parents, sibling, various other family members, coworkers, neighbors, and other peers of homosexuals are, in many cases, actually heterosexuals. Last known consensus was that roughly 90% of said peers heterosexual. Homosexuals do not, as your statement suggests, wish to avoid any and all contact with or maintain an ill will towards all heterosexuals. Quite the contrary, Me. Homosexuals very much enjoy a majority or their interactions with heterosexuals. I have found that many homosexuals are rather fond of accompanying their heterosexual companions to a variety of events, including, but not limited to: dining out, attending concerts/plays, visiting theme parks, family gatherings, and patronage of retail shops. It is simply the sexual interactions with heterosexuals of the opposite gender that homosexuals wish to avoid. Again, I can see how that may have misconstrued and incorrectly conveyed to you, but I hope to have shed some light on this particular item.
    Next item. “It is a choice that if one makes that’s fine…” I am going to make the fearful decision to make an assumption. Not usually the action of choice, I know, Me, but one that cannot be avoided at this junction of our lesson. I am going to assume that you mean to convey that homosexuals make the choice to be homosexual. I am truly beginning to have great sympathies for those whom you’ve received such inaccurate information. They have done you, one our countries’ veterans, a dishonor by allowing you to go forth in the world believing this statement it also correct when it could not be further from the truth.

    Homosexuals do not make a conscious choice to be homosexual, Me. Shocking, I know. I’ll let you sit for a moment and let this new information marinade.

    I would like to now ask you at what point in your adolescence you chose to be heterosexual, Me. Take your time, think back to your first innocent, school yard crush and try to remember at what point you actively decided to give that young lady your affection instead of the young man next to her.

    If you can accurately pinpoint this moment in your life, the one where you tipped the scales to heterosexuality, by all means, share. You will be the first I have known to be able to, with 100% assurance, declare they actively chose one sexuality over the other. I suggest you write a memoir about the experience, it has best-seller potential. Fiction category, of course, but potential none the less.

    Next item. “The real course of action here should be putting all that psychoanalysis power we have over the homosexual and examine closely where in each homosexuals past did they cross the line…what trauma was experienced such that a man or woman would turn from the natural to the un natural use of the body…THIS IS EXACTLY WHERE A 12 STEP PROGRAM could be useful.”

    My goodness, Me, you really should check your informational sources more thoroughly in the future. I am again, pained to inform you that this statement is rife with inaccuracies. There have been a vast amount of studies in what causes homosexual behavior; it has been deemed, as Dr. Johnson pointed out, a natural occurrence in not just our species, but dozen of species. I propose a topic for you to think on: if homosexuality can be found in nature, how can it be unnatural? As for the suggested 12-step program you have in mind, there are many organizations that offer reparative therapy, but many of these programs have recently admitted that their therapy does not actually make a homosexual no longer homosexual, merely they tout their ability to help their ‘patients’ not to act on their natural homosexual urges. Yes, you did read my last statement correctly, they can only help homosexuals to try and not act on their natural homosexual urges.

    I have many more items to discuss with you regarding your comment, Me, but I have more pressing items already on my agenda for the day and must get back to them. I do hope that I have helped, in some manner, in clearing up some things for you, Me. I am more than happy to continue this lesson later if you so desire. Simply post another comment that you would like me to expand some more, and I will be honored to continue teaching you the truth about homosexuals.

    With warm regards from your friendly lesbian,

  • Dear “Me”:
    I am not homosexual, nor am I a veteran. I am a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and I am a law student who is writing a research paper on the differing rights provided for same-sex couples in those states that provide some form of same-sex union, as well as examining the different rationales offered to support the provision of those rights.

    From a psychological standpoint, homosexuality has been long understood as an innate tendency for attraction to the same sex, which attraction usually begins to felt first around the onset of puberty (though the stigma placed on attraction to the same sex by society sometimes complicates and / or delays this realization of sexuality).

    I cannot help but find your comments misguided in another way, as well. As has been mentioned, our country’s government was intended to have an inherent separation of church and state; i.e., religion and government were (and are still) forbidden to be mixed because that was the intention of our founding fathers, the writers of our Constitution. That separation is grounded in the religious oppression experienced by the settlers before they left England and the firm conviction that having your beliefs dictated to you by another is unjust, that the citizens of our country should be granted the freedoms to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    It may or may not surprise you to learn that surveys over the last several years have shown not only an increasing support for same-sex unions, but at least one survey (I apologize for not having the citation available as I write this) indicated that a majority of our country’s citizens (voting age and older) are in favor of same-sex unions and marital rights for homosexual couples.

    While it may be hard to understand, or approve of, from your vantage point, this shift merely represents the principle that it is unfair to deprive two people who love each other of the rights bestowed upon other loving couples who are unrelated (in a familial way), of age, and of sound mind to decide for themselves. Without a legitimate government interest (and I would even argue a higher standard of a compelling government interest) in preventing same-sex couples from marrying, as well as no other less restrictive means of furthering a legitimate or compelling government interest, it is federally unconstitutional for the government to deprive same-sex couples of the marital rights enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. I believe that the Supreme Court will sooner or later hold that substantive due process forbids denial of fundamental liberty rights to same-sex couples, or possibly that equal protection of the laws is a firm ground on which to premise the recognition of same-sex marriage by the government. It is well-established that animus (or feeling of moral distaste) toward homosexuality is insufficient to meet the standard of a legitimate government interest, and laws have already been struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional because the sole government interest involved was animus toward the targeted conduct. (See Lawrence v. Texas case in 2003).

    I do not expect any of this to change your mind, but I felt it imperative to clear up a few misconceptions as someone without an ax to grind, but someone who has some particular knowledge about the subject matter.

    Kimberly (Candidate for Juris Doctor degree in 2012)

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