Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a statement this afternoon strongly suggesting that the House will take up a court defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in the wake of the Obama administration's decision on Feb. 23 that it will no longer defend Section 3 of the 1996 law.
In the statement, Boehner said, "I will convene a meeting of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group for the purpose of initiating action by the House to defend this law of the United States, which was enacted by a bipartisan vote in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton.
According to Boehner's office, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group is a five-member panel consisting of the Speaker of the House, Majority Leader, Majority Whip, Minority Leader, and Minority Whip. Under House rules, his office said in a statement, "the advisory group has the authority to instruct the non-partisan office of the House General Counsel to take legal action on behalf of the House of Representatives."
Boehner added, "It is regrettable that the Obama Administration has opened this divisive issue at a time when Americans want their leaders to focus on jobs and the challenges facing our economy. The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts -- not by the president unilaterally -- and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution."
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while praising Obama's earlier decision as a "bold step forward for civil rights and equality," opposed Boehner's decision.
"Aside from standing up for a discriminatory law and failing to focus on jobs and the economy, this action places Republicans squarely on the wrong side of history and progress," Pelosi said in a statement. "In addition, this decision will burden the staff and monetary resources of the Office of the General Counsel, and given the complexity of these cases and the number of courts involved, it is likely this will cost the House hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars."
The Department of Justice, in a letter sent to Boehner on Feb. 25, alerted him to 11 cases in which DOJ believes its decision not to defend Section 3 of DOMA is implicated.
Pelosi continued, saying, "This is nothing more than a distraction from our most pressing challenges, and Speaker Boehner should follow his own advice and work with Democrats to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, and responsibly reduce the deficit.”
The Human Rights Campaign, which has urged Boehner to focus his attention elsewhere for the same reason, was quick to condemn the move.
"House Republican leadership has now shown they’re more interested in scoring cheap political points on the backs of same-sex couples than tackling real problems," HRC president Joe Solmonese said in a statement. "As families across the country continue to struggle, the House Republican leadership's prescription is to keep families they don't like from accessing needed protections."
Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, had been pushing for Boehner to act. He celebrated today's move, saying in a statement, "We commend Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor for intervening to defend DOMA. This follows President Obama's decision to abdicate the requirement of his constitutional oath that he 'take care that the laws be faithfully executed.' A forceful intervention is a necessary response that will limit the dangerous precedent set by President Obama's refusal to defend DOMA."