By Felicia Sonmez and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 4, 2011; 5:39 PM
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced Friday that the chamber 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 that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Boehner said 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."
On the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group are the top three House Republicans - Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) - and the top two House Democrats - Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.).
The group has the authority to instruct the House general counsel to take legal action on behalf of the House. It typically gets involved in situations where leaders believe there are institutional or separation-of-powers concerns.
For instance, in 2006, when the FBI raided the office of then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), 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 is not likely to happen on this hot-button issue.
Pelosi said in a statement that Boehner's move placed Republicans "squarely on the wrong side of history and progress" and 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. "I oppose Speaker Boehner's effort to put the House in the position of defending this indefensible statute."