National

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U.S. House panel votes to defend federal gay marriage ban

Nancy Pelosi

A U.S. House panel voted March 9 along party lines to direct general counsel to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court following President Obama’s announcement that his administration would no longer defend the statute against litigation.

In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which he convened last week after the president’s announcement, had come to the conclusion to direct the House General Counsel to defend DOMA after the Wednesday meeting.

“Today, after consultation with the Bipartisan Leadership Advisory Group, the House General Counsel has been directed to initiate a legal defense of this law,” Boehner said. “This action by the House will ensure that this law’s constitutionality is decided by the courts, rather than by the President unilaterally.”

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Democrats reintroduce ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ to repeal gay marriage ban

Speaker of the House John Boehner

In the continuing wake of President Barack Obama's announcement that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, Democrats have begun the process to repeal the 1996 ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage by reintroducing the “Respect for Marriage Act.”

The bill, originally introduced in 2009, would legislatively repeal DOMA. Sponsored by more than 100 representatives, including all four openly gay members of Congress, the bill faces an uphill battle to move out of the Republican-controlled House.

"DOMA now is viewed with deep skepticism from all sides,” said Lambda Legal National Marriage Project Director Jennifer C. Pizer in a released statement. “When members of Congress wrote this discrimination into law in 1996, they made a theoretical pronouncement, prompted both by popular anxiety at the thought that same-sex couples might start marrying, and by the personal and religious views of some about family life. But the days of theorizing are behind us.”

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Turning point? Obama won’t defend Defense of Marriage Act

President Obama's administration announced it would no longer defend DOMA in court

President Obama’s administration made a blockbuster announcement Feb. 23, saying it has concluded that one part of the Defense of Marriage Act will not be able to pass constitutional muster in the 2nd Circuit and the Department of Justice would not defend that part of the law in two pending cases in that circuit.

“The president and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner.

The decision does not automatically overturn DOMA and does not mean that gay couples will now receive the federal benefits of marriage. The law still has to be repealed by Congress, which is unlikely in the near future, or struck down as unconstitutional by the courts.

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Obama DOMA decision could have major impact

Speaker of the House John Boehner expects the House to defend DOMA in court

Political decisions are a lot like oceanic earthquakes. First, there’s the quake, and then there’s the wave. Nobody can tell just how significant the wave is until it reaches land. Sometimes, the wave has greater impact than the earthquake; sometimes, it’s just a swell.

So it is with the decision by the Obama Department of Justice to call the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The news was a political earthquake for the LGBT community. Now, there’s the wait-and-see for how big an impact the announcement will have.

In this case, there are two waves to watch for: the legal and the political.

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DOMA: Reaction from the left and right

Left

“This is a monumental turning point in the history of the quest for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

Jon Davidson, Lambda Legal, Defense & Education Fund

“The president’s leadership on this issue has forever changed the landscape for LGBT people in this country … This is the beginning of the end, not just for the mean-spirited and indefensible Defense of Marriage Act, but for the entire panoply of laws that discriminate against same-sex couples.”

Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights