House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced Friday that the House will take action to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, a little over a week after President Obama instructed the Justice Department to no longer defend the constitutionality of the law, which bans the recognition of same-sex marriage.
Boehner announced that he will convene a meeting of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a first step toward taking action in the House to defend the law.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group consists of the top three House Republicans – Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) – as well as the top two Democrats – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
The group, which has the authority to instruct the House General Counsel to take legal action on behalf of the House, often gets involved in situations where House leaders believe there are institutional or separation-of-powers issues involved.
For instance, when the FBI raided then-Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) office in 2006, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group requested that the House counsel file a memorandum stating that the search violated the government’s separation of powers.
In that case, there was bipartisan agreement among the leaders – something that’s not likely to happen on the hot-button issue of DOMA.
Pelosi said in a statement after Boehner’s announcement that not only would it place Republicans “squarely on the wrong side of history and progress,” it would likely cost the House hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
“President Obama took a bold step forward for civil rights and equality when he announced that the federal government would no longer argue to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act in court,” Pelosi said. “This legislation has long raised constitutional questions and has long been viewed as a violation of the equal protection clause. That’s why I voted against it on the floor, and that’s why I oppose Speaker Boehner’s effort to put the House in the position of defending this indefensible statute.”
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), called Boehner’s move “a great win for marriage, for democracy and for our Constitutional processes.”
“We are grateful to Speaker Boehner and to the GOP leadership for standing up for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and for the prerogatives of Congress,” Brown said in a statement. “President Obama’s radical decision to dump the defense of DOMA is not only bad politics, it is going to backfire tactically. With the House intervening, we will finally get lawyers in that courtroom who are trying to win this case--and we are confident that in the end DOMA will be upheld by the Supreme Court.”