After appeal by faith leaders, House Speaker agrees to defend Marriage Act

Speaker of the House John Boehner Official CNA US Catholic News 3 4 11 Speaker of the House John Boehner presides over the proceedings

Speaker of the House John Boehner agreed March 4 to legally defend the Defense of Marriage Act, after the Obama administration refused to do so. Boehner’s decision came after Catholic and other interfaith leaders urged his involvement.

House Speaker Rep. Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement on March 4 promising to convene a bipartisan legal advisory group to defend the marriage act, after the Obama Administration recently said the law discriminated against gay couples and that it believes the measure is unconstitutional.

“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,” Boehner said.

“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.”

In a March 3 letter to Rep. Boehner, Catholic, Protestant and Sikh leaders said they were “very troubled” by the decisions of the Obama Administration and U.S. Justice Department to “no longer protect the traditional definition of marriage and defend existing law.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Feb. 23 that the administration now believes the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act – which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and denies marital benefits to homosexual partnerships – is unconstitutional because it discriminates against gays.

Holder cited a “changed” legal landscape – including a Supreme Court ruling that laws against homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. He also pointed to Congress’ decision late last year to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

The March 3 letter from the religious leaders said that by choosing to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, “the Obama Administration has undermined the rule of law and the separation of powers.”

However, they emphasized to Rep. Boehner, the “House has the authority to rectify this lapse in judgment.” 

The leaders then implored the Speaker “to lead the House to take the important, necessary step to protect American law, American families, and American values,” by defending the act and “protecting the true meaning of marriage.”

Catholic signatories of the letter included Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, California, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Defense of Marriage.

Protestant leaders who signed the letter included Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Dr. Glenn C. Burris, Jr., president, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The letter was also signed by Dr. Tarunjit Singh, secretary general of the American Region of the World Sikh Council.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, also reacted to the Obama administration's move in a March 3 statement. He called the failure to defend the marriage act “an alarming and grave injustice.”

“Marriage, the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife, is a singular and irreplaceable institution,” he wrote.

“Only a man and a woman have the ability to bring children into the world. Along with that ability comes responsibility, which society historically reinforces with laws that bind mothers and fathers to each other and their children.”

Archbishop Dolan said that the family unit represents “the most basic and vital cell of any society, protecting the right of children to know and be known by, to love and be loved by, their mother and father.”

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“Every person deserves to be treated with justice, compassion, and respect, a proposition of natural law and American law that we as Catholics vigorously promote,” he said, noting that unjust discrimination “against any person is always wrong.”

Rather than the Defense of Marriage Act being discriminatory, he said, “it merely affirms and protects the time-tested and unalterable meaning of marriage.”

“The suggestion that this definition amounts to 'discrimination' is grossly false and represents an affront to millions of citizens in this country.”

Archbishop Dolan closed his remarks by saying the administration’s current position “is not only a grave threat to marriage, but to religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy as well.”

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