As congressional Democratic leaders embraced President Obama’s support for gay marriage, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) distanced himself from the efforts of some Republicans to rein in federal support for the issue and instead said that GOP leaders would stay focused on the economy.
Boehner, who reiterated his belief that “marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” declined to publicly support the efforts of rank-and-file Republicans who pushed approval of two measures Wednesday night hours after Obama’s announcement. He said that he would spend no time talking about the issue of gay marriage.
“The president and the Democrats can talk about all this all they want,” Boehner told reporters at his weekly press briefing, “but the fact is the American people are focused on our economy and they're asking the question: Where are the jobs?”
Boehner’s remarks followed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who called Obama’s announcement “history being made” and that it “filled my heart with joy.” Pelosi said it was worth the risk of the issue became politically heated and damaged the prospects of Obama in some culturally conservative regions, even if it also hurt the chances of House Democrats running in those areas.
“This is why we come to office, to do some good things, and so we cant' say we would have done a good thing but we can’t do it because we’ll lose votes if we do,” she said.
Later, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) clarified his position to state he does personally support gay marriage rights, a day after issuing a statement that his “personal belief” opposed that right but that “civil society” should allow for it. Reid reiterated Thursday that he believes that marriage and all family law issues are left up to states — a decision that allows for Tuesday’s vote in North Carolina to ban gay marriage. Pressed about how he would vote if Nevada held a referendum legalize same-sex marriage — in 2002 the state overwhelmingly approved a ban similar to North Carolina’s — Reid said that he would adhere to the wishes of his family members, who have convinced him of the merits of gay marriage.
“I would follow my grandchildren and children,” Reid said.
The next legislative flash point on the issue in Congress is likely to come in the summer and fall showdowns over annual federal spending bills.
Pelosi and Boehner have been at deep odds over the speaker’s decision to use House funds to finance legal action to fight Obama's previous decision to no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by a wide bipartisan vote in the mid-1990s that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. As had been done last year, the House approved an amendment Wednesday night to a bill funding the Justice Department that restricted the department’s ability to spend resources in opposition to DOMA. Also, the House Armed Services Committee, as part of the annual Pentagon policy bill, passed an amendment forbidding “marriage-like”ceremonies at military facilities for same-sex couples.
Those amendments have passed before, but the Senate has rejected them and ultimately they have fallen off in negotiations between the two chambers over the final versions of the legislation.
Pressed repeatedly on gay rights issues, Boehner said that he would not focus on those debates.
“I'm gonna stay focused on jobs,” he said.