House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to drop congressional defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court if Democrats retake control of the House in November.
Pelosi made the remarks Wednesday in an interview with the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill. When asked what could be expected on LGBT issues if Democrats regain control in the 113th Congress, she talked DOMA.
“First of all, we can expect something to go away, like stop spending taxpayer dollars on the Defense of Marriage of Act, which is a waste of money and not the right thing to do,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi had previously criticized House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for taking on defense of DOMA after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the anti-gay law and has called on House Republicans to discontinue that effort, but never before pledged to drop defense of DOMA if Democrats resumed control of the House.
She said she thinks Republicans believe DOMA is unconstitutional because when they controlled the House under the Bush administration, they tried to pass court-stripping provisions denying judicial review for the anti-gay law and others.
“They had to know that there was a weakness constitutionally in that bill, if they would want to put court-stripping provisions in relating to DOMA and the rest,” Pelosi said. “So, we think they know it’s weak constitutionally.”
Pelosi made the pledge to discontinue congressional defense of DOMA just hours after the U.S. District Court of the Southern District struck down the law in the case of Windsor v. United States, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, who became the fifth federal judge to rule against DOMA, ordered that plaintiff Edith Windsor be repaid the $353,053 plus interest and costs allowed by law that she paid out in estate taxes because of DOMA upon the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer.
Among other LGBT initiatives on which Pelosi pledged action if Democrats win back the House was the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce.
“We were on path on ENDA, and I’m still on that path mentally, and that’s what I would like to accomplish,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi also mentioned immigration legislation affecting the LGBT community, alluding to the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex partners for residency in the United States. She said the bill would “seriously codify immigration policy relating to the [LGBT] community.”
Pelosi was cautious about predicting that Democrats would win the 25 seats necessary to regain control of the House, saying there’s a “50-50” chance, nor would she presume that she would once again be elected speaker in that scenario.
“One thing at a time,” Pelosi said. “Let’s win the House first.”
Pelosi also wouldn’t rule out more progress on LGBT issues under the current makeup of Congress. She said conferees working on the Violence Against Women Act may adopt LGBT-inclusive language because the Democratic-controlled Senate wouldn’t pass a bill without it.
“It’s supposed to go to conference,” Pelosi said. “I don’t think the Senate will pass a bill without those protections, and we certainly won’t support it in the House.”
Pelosi maintained the lack of LGBT language ensuring non-discrimination in shelters and inclusion in grant programs — which is found in the version of the bill passed by the Senate — was among the reasons Democrats voted against the House bill.
“How can you say you don’t approve of violence against women except if you happen to be lesbian or bisexual or transgender?” Pelosi said. “Those are the people who need it the most, you know? And so, but it’s not only the [LGBT] community, it’s also Native Americans and immigrants who are excluded from protections in the House bill.”
Pelosi said Republican lawmakers have confided to her they want to push their caucus to support more inclusive language in the conference report even as many voted for the less inclusive House version of the bill because they didn’t want to seem like they favored violence against women.
“If they’re from places with lots of Native Americans and/or lots of LGBT [people] — there are people who vote with their experience, and their constituents, so I think they will be feeling some pressures to support the Senate bill,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi also commented on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision earlier this week not to rehear a case challenging California’s Proposition 8 after a three-judge panel initially struck down the law.
She deferred to others when asked whether the case should move to the Supreme Court, where justices could rule on same-sex marriage bans throughout the country.
“There are better skilled legal minds on this subject,” Pelosi said. “What I want it to do is end up at a place where we really make a difference in people’s lives, and some of the court decisions have deferred to the Supreme Court acting, so that may be what it takes, but again I’m waiting to hear from those who are in the community who are looking at the consequences.”
Pelosi spoke to the Blade after remarks she gave at a reception for Hill staffers called “LGBT Pride on the Hill,” which, in addition to celebrating June as Pride month, honored Pelosi for her 25 years of service on Capitol Hill.
Prior to her remarks, Pelosi was given a rainbow-studded gavel by her deputy director of scheduling, Timothy Merritt, who’s gay. Merritt was appointed to the job in April 2011, but is leaving for Chicago to pursue a job with the Obama campaign.
Additionally, Pelosi commented on Wednesday’s news that one of the daughters of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Stefany Hoyer Hemmer, has publicly come out as a lesbian in hopes of preserving the marriage equality law in Maryland. Pelosi said she read the Blade article that broke the story.
“I was very happy with her,” Pelosi said. “I know it must have brought her some peace, too. It’s liberating to make a decision. I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but God bless her for her decision, and God bless her for the work that she is setting out to do.”
Pelosi said she hasn’t spoken with Hoyer about her daughter’s decision to come out as a lesbian, but plans to bring it up with him.