House Republicans abandon marriage court fight

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Lawyers for House Republicans declared in a court filing today an end to their fight over federal statutes similar to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Republican-controlled Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) asked today to withdraw as defendant from McLaughlin v. Panetta, a case originally filed in federal court in Massachusetts by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) challenging DOMA and multiple provisions of U.S. Code prohibiting benefits for same-sex military families. 

“The Windsor decision necessarily resolves the issue of DOMA Section 3’s constitutionality in this case,” BLAG attorneys wrote. “While the question of whether 38 U.S.C. § 101(3), (31) is constitutional remains open, the House has determined, in light of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Windsor, that it no longer will defend that statute. Accordingly, the House now seeks leave to withdraw as a party defendant.” 

The decision by Republican leadership comes one day and three weeks after the Supreme Court sided with Edith Windsor and struck down Section 3 of DOMA, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, as unconstitutional. One day after that ruling, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns set today as the deadline for the parties in the McLaughlin case to address why the Supreme Court ruling should not apply in that case as well.

As recently as yesterday, a spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has been defending DOMA in court since the Obama administration refused to continue doing so in February 2011, told BuzzFeed they were “reviewing the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, and don’t have any announcement to make at this time.”

BLAG lawyers did not take a position on whether they believe the court should side with the plaintiffs in the case, including lead plaintiffs Maj. Shannon McLaughlin, a judge advocate general in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, and her wife, Casey McLaughlin.

“After millions of taxpayer dollars wasted defending discrimination, it’s a historic sign of the times that the House leadership is dropping its pointless quest to maintain second-class status for lesbian and gay couples,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

With BLAG’s filing today, it appears sections of U.S. Code, including Title 38, that define “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex” have been left without a legal defense.

UPDATE @ 5PM: Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson joined Griffin in criticizing House Republicans for spending nearly $3 million defending DOMA and called on Congress to go a step further by repealing DOMA entirely.

“It took a Supreme Court ruling, but House Republicans have finally taken a step toward joining the majority of Americans who have come to understand that marriage does not need defending from committed couples – and that, as Dick Cheney put it, ‘freedom means freedom for everyone,'” said Wolfson. “The House leadership spent millions of taxpayer dollars unsuccessfully defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that the Supreme Court held is indefensible. They could and should now help redeem those dollars by doing what Congress is supposed to do – pass the Respect for Marriage Act and get the discriminatory so-called Defense of Marriage Act off the books once and for all.”

[Photo: John Boehner (Courtesy of Bryant Avondoglio/John Boehner's office)]

Read the BLAG filing here:

BLAG Withdraw From McLaughlin v. Panetta

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

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