January 3, 2013

John Boehner (AP)

It’s emerged that House Republicans have decided to continue to spend taxpayer funds defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court. GOP lawmakers gave the green light to this idea in a private meeting last night, and it is expected to pass the House as part of a rules package when it is voted on today.

The optics of this move are intriguing. DOMA has already been found unconstitutional by lower courts. The House GOP has already spent over $1.5 million paying outside counsel to defend this law, and while the amount it will ultimately spend on this means little in the larger fiscal scheme of things, it comes just after House Republicans took a beating for failing to vote on aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

“They found the time to appropriate extra money to defend discrimination, but they didn’t find the time or money to push the hurricane relief bill through,” prominent gay advocate Richard Socarides told me today.

How many supposedly fiscally conscious. Constitution-loving Tea Party House members favor spending taxpayer money defending DOMA? Perhaps a reporter should ask them, and if they favor it, how they reconcile that with their zeal to cut spending on wasteful government.

After all, this money is very likely going to be wasted. In fact, the larger story here is that what this really represents — in all probability — is a last gasp of sorts in the culture wars. It isn’t just that many legal scholars, and lower courts, have determined that DOMA is unconstitutional. It goes before the Supreme Court this spring, and many experts expect it to be struck down. Any cash defending DOMA is likely to constitute throwing good money after bad.

What’s more, public opinion is clearly trending away from Republicans on this issue. For the first time last fall, gay marriage was legalized in several states by popular vote. An American president has now endorsed gay marriage, and he faced no visible backlash for doing so. Polls show that majorities now support gay marriage — and notably, it is overwhelmingly supported by younger voters.

 For these reasons, Democrats are calling on Republicans to hold an open vote on continued taxpayer money to defend DOMA. “The American people should have the opportunity to know exactly where their Representatives stand on the use of taxpayer dollars to defend this unconstitutional law,” Dem Rep. Mike Honda said in a statement. “Republican leadership should give it an up-or-down vote.”

The larger story here, as the right-leaning writer Matt Lewis observes, is that Republicans are largely losing the “culture” — more and more Americans simply no longer agree with the party stance on cultural issues. If the GOP really wants to avoid getting pigeonholed as the party of the past, it’s hard to see how spending taxpayer money defending what looks like a doomed discriminatory law — one that may soon be nothing but a relic of past bigotry — will help matters.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.