WASHINGTON -- House Republicans continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars defending the federal ban on same-sex marriage in court, most recently committing to dish out up to $3 million. This decision, according to a former Republican congressman, is "ridiculous."
Former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) served in Congress from 1985 to 2007. In August 1996, after voting for the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, Kolbe came out as gay. He says he voted for DOMA because of his belief that the definition of marriage should be left to the states.
But now, he believes the Republican Party needs to move on and accept the trend toward acceptance of marriage equality. "I think it's ridiculous, of course, that we're defending DOMA," Kolbe said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
The House Republican leadership took over the legal defense of DOMA in the spring of 2011, when Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice would no longer defend it because it believed the law is unconstitutional. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders hired the law firm Bancroft LLC to represent them in litigation.
Kolbe said he wasn't at all surprised that Boehner made the decision he did, adding that "it was perfectly natural and understandable that the House was going to step in."
But he disagrees with the decision. What bothers him now about the law is that it denies federal benefits to gays and lesbians who are married, since the U.S. government does not officially recognize their union as legal -- even if the state they were married in does.
"DOMA had two pieces to it: One saying that states don't have to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. But the more important thing -- at least now, to me, and the one that I didn't focus on at the time -- was the denial of federal benefits. If a marriage is legal in, as it is, Washington, D.C. or Maryland, then federal benefits should certainly apply to same-sex couples there," said Kolbe.
The Republican Party is disjointed on issues of gay rights. On one hand, House GOP leadership is defending DOMA and the 2012 party platform took a clear stance against marriage equality. On the other hand, Republican stalwarts like Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich have either endorsed same-sex marriage or said the GOP should stop fighting against it.
Kolbe, who now serves as a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan public policy group, predicted that the latter position will increasingly become the position of the party.
"It's the case of the iceberg breaking up here," he said. "Yes, there's no doubt about it that Republicans are changing on this topic, and I will make this prediction to you: That 2012 was the last year this issue will appear in the Republican platform at the national convention. I don't think it will be there again, and I think ... it will simply become a non-issue for Republicans."
"The American people are moving in that direction, more and more states are going in that direction and as they do that, the pressure to say that benefits should apply to those same-sex couples where it's legal will also increase," he added.
The move toward acceptance of gay rights is driven by young people in the Republican Party, added Kolbe. Indeed, there is a significant generational gap on the issue of marriage equality, with young voters far more likely to favor it than older voters. Another poll by TargetPoint Consulting found that 68 percent of Republicans under the age of 45 favor giving gay couples domestic partner benefits, civil unions or the right to marry.
When asked why so many Republican lawmakers are nevertheless unwilling to back equality for LGBT individuals, Kolbe replied, "They at least believe that their base depends on conservative, religious, evangelical voters, whom they believe to be against this, and they don't want to antagonize them. And yet they see the general public moving in the other direction. ... So they just avoid talking about it. The day will come when they just acknowledge and accept it and shrug and move on."
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