House Approves Rules Permitting Continued Defense of DOMA

House Rules Vote.jpg

As one of their first acts of the 113th Congress, the House of Representatives voted to allow the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to continue defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

In a 228-196 vote approving the House rules, the full House voted for the first time to continue funding the legal defense of DOMA as the 1996 federal law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages sits before the Supreme Court. The last vote concerning BLAG came in March 2011, when the Republican-controlled BLAG voted 3-2 to defend DOMA in court after the Obama administration declared the law unconstitutional in February 2011.

Democrats and LGBT-rights advocates blasted the move as a waste of taxpayer dollars. House Republicans have spent nearly $2 million on the legal defense of DOMA. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared the vote a message from Republicans to LGBT families that “their fiscal responsibility mantra does not extend to their efforts to stand firmly on the wrong side of the future.”

“Additionally, for the first time in the House Rules, the Republican leadership has decided to include an explicit acknowledgement that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) ‘continues to speak for, and articulate the institutional position of, the House in all litigation matters in which it appears…,'” Pelosi said in a statement, adding, “As House Democrats have time and time again made clear, the BLAG does not speak for all Members of the House of Representatives and we will continue to oppose this wasteful use of taxpayer funds to defend DOMA.”

The vote comes the same day the largest number of out LGB lawmakers in American history took their seats on Capitol Hill at the start of the 113th Congress. According to Human Rights Campaign Legislative Director Allison Herwitt, “It is particularly disappointing that this historic Congress – with the largest-ever class of openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Members and same-sex congressional spouses – has begun with a vote that disrespects those new Members and all LGBT Americans.”

“This law has been struck down as unconstitutional 10 times, with support from judges appointed by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes,” added Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, in a statement. “It’s past time for the Republican leadership to listen to their constituents, a majority of whom support the freedom to marry, and stop wasting precious resources in an effort to treat fellow Americans as second-class citizens.” 

Log Cabin Republicans also criticized the move by House Republicans, all but one of which voted against the House rules.

“At a time when sound fiscal policy should be front-and-center, diverting taxpayer funds to defend the Federal Defense of Marriage Act should not be a priority, period,” said Gregory Angelo, interim executive director of LCR, who was appointed following former executive director R. Clarke Cooper’s official exit at the end of last year. In a statement, Angelo urged Congress to repeal DOMA through the Respect for Marriage Act, which gained two Republican supporters in recent weeks. Republican Reps. Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Charlie Bass (N.H.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) each support the legislation that would repeal DOMA.

Although LCR has argued under the leadership of Cooper that the law is entitled to a defense no matter how bad it may be, Angelo told Metro Weekly that LCR’s opposition to DOMA has not changed.

“Clark was always opposed to DOMA. He thought the House pursuing the defense of DOMA judicially was not a net positive for the Republican Party but also acknowledged that President Obama was making this a political issue through his actions in not upholding the law,” said Angelo. “I wouldn’t say this is a difference in his opinion.”

[Image: Screenshot of vote on House Rules  (Courtesy of C-SPAN).]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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