WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced on Friday that he was spearheading a process that will, ultimately, witness the House of Representatives taking over the legal responsibilities of arguing for the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The announcement comes less than two weeks after the Obama administration's Department of Justice removed itself from the case, declaring that it had determined the law -- which dictates that the federal government can only recognize a state-sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman -- to be unconstitutional.
In a statement posted on his website, Boehner said he would be convening a meeting of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to vote on how to address the law in court. Since the group is weighted towards Republicans, the outcome seems fairly certain that the House will take on the role of the defense.
"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. "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 group will include Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
The inclusion of Pelosi and Hoyer may seem a bit odd considering the president's public opposition to DOMA -- a position that Pelosi cheered as a "victory" for civil rights. But their position seems to be more perfunctory than anything else.
According to House rules, a Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group is to consist of five members (top three of majority party, top two of minority). With three Republicans and two Democrats on the panel, any legal decision the panel takes with respect to DOMA will have a decidedly Republican bent.
One thing worth noting is the carefully-worded language in Boehner's statement. Rather than playing up the need to defend an act of Congress, the speaker chose to emphasize the need for the courts to have full and final say, sidestepping possible complaints of hypocrisy regarding the attempt by GOP officials to have Obama's congressionally-passed health care law overturned in the judiciary.
UPDATE: In a statement from her office, Pelosi said she would oppose Boehner's efforts, calling them "nothing more than a distraction."
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.
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.
Aside from standing up for a discriminatory law and failing to focus on jobs and the economy, this action places Republicans squarely on the wrong side of history and progress. In addition, this decision will burden the staff and monetary resources of the Office of the General Counsel, and given the complexity of these cases and the number of courts involved, it is likely this will cost the House hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
This is nothing more than a distraction from our most pressing challenges, and Speaker Boehner should follow his own advice and work with Democrats to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, and responsibly reduce the deficit.
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