House to defend law allowing states not to recognize same-sex marriages

A legal advisory group to the House voted Wednesday to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

The 3-2, party-line vote by the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) gives the House General Counsel the authority to retain outside counsel to defend challenges to the law.

The group consists of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

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The action was taken little over two weeks after the administration announced that it would not seek to defend DOMA, a law that has been on the books for 16 years.

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

Boehner announced last Friday that he would convene a meeting of the BLAG in order to win the ruling to defend DOMA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The law allows states to not recognize same-sex marriages approved by other states.

Hoyer and Pelosi opposed the move, saying they agreed with the administration that the law was “unconstitutional.”

During the meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, Democrats grilled House General Counsel Kerry Kircher on the cost of retaining an additional attorney to defend the law.

Kircher told the lawmakers that his understaffed office would have to hire an outside attorney for a minimum of 18 months, and that it “wouldn’t be inexpensive,” according to a leadership aide.

Hoyer and Pelosi argued that there are nine cases related to DOMA, with another case on the way, and that there are many groups “filing amicus briefs in these cases, so there’s going to be representation of the pro-DOMA side.”

Social conservatives outraged over the White House’s decision to opt out of defending the law have applauded Boehner’s decision.

But civil rights activists on Wednesday tried to deliver a petition with more than 30,000 signatures opposing House intervention to Boehner’s office.