WASHINGTON (AP) - House Speaker John Boehner said Friday he is
launching a legal defense by the House of the federal law against
gay marriage, which President Barack Obama's administration has
concluded is unconstitutional.
"The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the
courts -- not by the president unilaterally," the Ohio Republican
said in a statement. "This action by the House will ensure the
matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution."
The Obama administration last month announced it would no longer
defend the constitutionality of the federal law that bans
recognition of gay marriage. Attorney General Eric Holder said the
section of the 1996 law defining marriage as a union between a man
and a woman is unconstitutional. Nonetheless, he said the Justice
Department would continue to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act,
and it remains in effect.
Boehner said he would convene a group of bipartisan
congressional leaders that has the authority to instruct the House
counsel to represent the chamber in court. The panel would include
Boehner, 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.
Boehner said he was convening the panel "for the purpose of
initiating action by the House to defend this law." But there was
no immediate indication of specifically what action it would direct
or when the group would meet.
Democrats on the panel were unlikely to support any defense of
the law. Pelosi has lauded Obama's decision to stop defending it as
a "victory for civil rights, fairness and equality."
On Friday, she criticized the move as a costly burden on House
"This is nothing more than a distraction from our most pressing
challenges" such as creating jobs and reducing the federal
deficit, she said.
The White House declined to comment on Boehner's announcement.
The law's supporters lauded the new House speaker, saying
constitutionality should be decided by the courts and not by the
"With the House intervening, we will finally get lawyers in
that courtroom who are trying to win this" issue, said Brian
Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
The law's opponents said Boehner's action amounted to pandering
to the GOP's conservative base at the expense of gays and lesbians.
House Republicans have "now shown they're more interested in
scoring cheap political points on the backs of same-sex couples
than tackling real problems," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.
Passed by the Republican-led Congress and signed into law by
President Bill Clinton in 1996, the law defines marriage as a union
between a man and a woman, prevents the federal government from
recognizing gay marriages and allows states to deny recognition of
same-sex unions performed elsewhere.
It's been used by federal officials to justify excluding gay
couples from a range of benefits available to heterosexual couples.
They include health, Social Security, pension and tax benefits,
even to gay couples who were legally married in the handful of
states that recognize same-sex unions.
The Government Accountability Office estimates that there are
more than 1,000 provisions of federal law "in which benefits,
rights and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which
marital status is a factor."
Gay marriage is legal in some states: Connecticut, Iowa,
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
Still other states recognize civil unions, but not marriage,
between partners of the same sex. California's Proposition 8 has
been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
Meanwhile, 30 states have constitutional amendments banning gay
Last year, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled the law
unconstitutional in the face of challenges by same-sex couples and
the state of Massachusetts. Two new federal lawsuits in Connecticut
and New York raise many of the same issues.
The Supreme Court has not ruled on the gay marriage ban and has
turned down appeals asking it to weigh in. Those appeals were filed
after lower courts upheld the law. The high court often hears
appeals when a federal law has been struck down.
There is no timetable for when the next case involving the law
will reach the Supreme Court.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)