Speaker Boehner Moves to Begin DOMA Defense

By John R Parkinson

Mar 4, 2011 2:52pm

ABC News' John R. Parkinson reports:

Speaker of the House John Boehner announced today that he will convene a meeting of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group for the purpose of initiating action by the House of Representatives to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). 

The move comes in response to President Obama’s instructions Feb. 23 to the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the DOMA, which has since 1996 allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex partnerships legally recognized in other states. 

“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, R-Ohio, said in a statement Friday afternoon. “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 Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group is a five-member panel consisting of Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Speaker Boehner, said a date and time have not been finalized for the group to meet, although the meeting is expected to occur next week.

Under House rules, the advisory group has the authority to instruct the non-partisan office of the House General Counsel to take legal action on behalf of the House of Representatives. 

"I support the Speaker's action in light of President Obama's decision to shirk his constitutional responsibility to defend this law that has been on the books for 14 years," McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement. "The decision to abdicate responsibility by the Department of Justice and the intervention by the House will ultimately allow for some of the best lawyers in the country to defend the law.  I look forward to the BLAG meeting next week to chart a forceful course of action."

In a statement Feb. 23, Pelosi commended President Obama’s decision as a "bold step forward to ensure the federal government is no longer in the business of defending an indefensible statute.”

Today, she called DOMA a “discriminatory law” and said Boehner's move to defend it would place Republicans “squarely on the wrong side of history and progress." 

“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," Pelosi said in a statement Friday. “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."

DOMA was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.

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