The Obama Administration announced earlier this year it would no longer defend the constitutionality of part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage for federal purposes as the union of a man and a woman -- and prevents the federal government from extending benefits such as social security survivor benefits, estate tax exemptions, federal employee family health insurance, etc. to legally married same-sex couples.
House Speaker John Boehner and top GOP leaders immediately said they would intervene. Mr. Boehner retained former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and his firm to defend DOMA at a rate of $520 an hour, with a cap of $500,000. With nine DOMA related cases underway in different federal courts, the real cost is going to be even more. Even though Clement's firm, King and Spalding, currently lobbies on Capitol Hill, the GOP seemed to see no conflict of interest here, and is outraged that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raised questions about the arrangement.
King and Spalding, with the infinite wisdom of a high powered Washington law and lobbying firm, withdrew from the case on April 25, issuing a statement from Robert D. Hays, Jr., the firms chairman: "Today the firm filed a motion to withdraw from its engagement to represent the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives on the constitutional issues regarding Section III of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.... " Paul Clement, lead lawyer on the case then announced his resignation.
Chaos reigns. One would hope Speaker Boehner might take this development as a signal to graciously bow out, but it is unlikely. As Equality Matters president Richard Socarides pointed out in an online statement, "Speaker Boehner has an army of in-house legal talent at the House of Representatives who could ably represent his position in court. If he is serious about cutting the deficit he needs to look to his in-house council to represent him in these proceedings, instead of spending taxpayer dollars for a service already provided to his office."
Speaker Boehner, despite his tearfully articulated desire to cut spending on items such as hot lunches for school kids, Medicare for seniors, Pell grants for students who need assistance to attend college, health care for women, environmental safety measures, and willingness to shut the government down to defend his cause, sees no problem with spending tax payers' money to defend unconstitutional discrimination against gay and lesbian families.
Once again, GOP is tone deaf to what the people want. Despite Boehner's grandstanding on the cultural war front, three consecutive national polls have shown a majority of Americans support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. The CNN/Opinion Research survey released last week found 51% believe marriage for gay and lesbian couples should be recognized, up from 44% in 2008 and 2009. The poll in fact is conservative in its findings as it did not adequately include the under 30-age group, a population significantly more supportive of marriage equality that older people.
Does spending -- or more accurately, throwing away -- $500,000 dollars and more on this issue, sound like just what the nation wants or needs to do to feed empty stomachs, relieve the cost of emergency room visits by the uninsured, and get a new jobs program rolling? Or is it again, using the lives of a minority group as political wedge issue to distract the public from the hard issues, and deepen the divide in America that the Obama administration is working so hard to mend?
How would you like to see $500,000 or more of your tax dollars spent -- in your town or city or state?