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Topics In the News
House Republicans Abandon DOMA Defense
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 07/18/13
Last updated on: 07/19/13
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On July 18, 2013, hours before a court deadline, House Republican leaders announced that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) will no longer defend challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and related statutes. The decision comes three weeks after the Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. United States, which declared DOMA unconstitutional, and just hours before a federal district judge had ordered BLAG to respond to a request for a summary judgment in a suit involving the rights of servicemembers and their same-sex spouses. BLAG had intervened in that case to defend the federal definition of marriage in the U. S. Code of Military Justice.

In a filing in the case of McLaughlin et al. v. Panetta, BLAG informed the Court that "the House has determined, in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in Windsor, that it no longer will defend the [related statute in the U. S. Code of Military Justice]. Accordingly, the House now seeks leave to withdraw as a party defendant."

As Chris Geidner reports in BuzzFeed, the motion is in response to a recent filing in the case that asked for a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, who are challenging (in addition to DOMA) two statutes in Title 38 of the U.S. Code regarding veterans' benefits that define "spouse" as a "person of the opposite sex."

"The document from the legal team speaks for itself," House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, told BuzzFeed, when asked for comment on the move.

In response to the news that BLAG had ceased defending the statutes, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign said, "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."

There are additional cases remaining in federal courts challenging DOMA and related statutes. The Windsor decision means that these cases must be decided in favor of the plaintiffs. It is good news that BLAG seems to have reached the same conclusion and are finally withdrawing from the futile (but expensive) practice of fighting these challenges.

Since the appointment of Paul Clement to defend DOMA after the Department of Justice in February 2011, acting on the orders of President Obama, decided no longer to defend a law it had determined was unconstitutional, Clement has not won a single case. With Clement reportedly paid $520 per hour, the House appropriated more than $3,000,000 to defend the discriminatory law.

In the video below, NBC reporter Pete Williams reports on the Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA.

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