WASHINGTON -- House Republicans will intervene in a lawsuit that would keep same-sex couples from being pulled apart -- even separated to different countries -- by immigration authorities under the Defense of Marriage Act, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner confirmed on Wednesday.
The House GOP took up the challenge of defending DOMA, which bans legal recognition of same-sex marriage at the federal level, in May 2011, after President Barack Obama announced in February 2011 that the Department of Justice would no longer defend it. Obama said at the time that he believed the law was unconstitutional. The president came out in support of legalizing same-sex marriage on Wednesday in an interview with ABC, after about a year and a half of "evolving" on the issue, but said it should be decided by states.
Yet DOMA is a federal law that trumps legal same-sex marriages in the states, including in immigration matters. House Republicans are defending it in a number of challenges, but told advocacy group Immigration Equality on Friday that they would step in to defend DOMA against the organization's suit about binational same-sex couples.
"As I'm sure you're aware, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group has been defending, for the last year or so, the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in cases in which DOJ is not defending the statute," House General Counsel Kerry Kircher said in an email to Immigration Equality, according to the group. "DOJ has advised us that it will not defend Section 3 in the Blesch case. As a result, the House is planning to move to intervene in this matter, probably within the next week or so."
Kircher's office did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. A spokesman for Boehner (R-Ohio) confirmed that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group -- which is controlled by Republicans, although two Democrats are also members -- would defend DOMA in this specific case.
"Per the recommendation of outside counsel, the House plans to intervene so that the courts -- not the President unilaterally -- can decide whether the statue is constitutional," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck told HuffPost in an email.
The "Blesch case" referenced in Kircher's email to Immigration Equality is about the first plaintiff listed, 71-year-old U.S. citizen Edwin Blesch. Blesch is married to Tim Smulian, a 65-year-old resident of South Africa. Both men have health problems, and under current law Smulian was required to move away for a six-month period every year to re-obtain a visa to come back, at times keeping them apart when the other is ill. The couple received a reprieve in February so that Smulian will not have to leave, at least for a year.
Another couple, Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk, were told in January that Makk, an Australian, could remain in the United States.
But those small victories are just a matter of deportation relief, and don't change the fact that gay and lesbian U.S. citizens have few options for helping their spouses or partners obtain legal immigration status. Heterosexual couples can petition for green cards for their spouses, but that right is closed to same-sex couples under DOMA.
"While [the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group's] intervention is not unexpected, it is unfortunate," Steve Ralls, communications director for Immigration Equality, said in a statement. "Real families, like those in our lawsuit, are hurt in very real ways by DOMA. ... It is disheartening that even some of those who claim to be such staunch proponents of family values target some families for second-class treatment."
Defending DOMA has come at a high cost: the effort could cost as much as $1.5 million, at the expense of taxpayers, for a private law firm.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacked the DOMA defense Monday in an email to supporters, calling the law "discrimination -- plain and simple."
The DCCC email read, "We can't afford to waste taxpayer money on Boehner's bigotry."