House legal panel votes to defend traditional marriage law

House Speaker John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner


The House of Representatives has determined that its legal counsel will support the Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges, following the Obama administration's announcement that it now regards the law as unconstitutional.

On March 9, a five-member House advisory panel voted to mount a defense of the law, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

The bipartisan panel has the authority to advise the non-partisan General Counsel in taking legal action on behalf of the House of Representatives.

“After consultation with the Bipartisan Leadership Advisory Group, the House General Counsel has been directed to initiate a legal defense of this law,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R – Ohio) in a March 9 statement.

“This action by the House will ensure that this law’s constitutionality is decided by the courts, rather than by the President unilaterally,” Boehner explained.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer voted against  further defense of the marriage law by the House General Counsel, but were outvoted by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

The Obama administration has defended the law against constitutional challenges in the past, but announced on Feb. 23 that it would no longer do so.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, criticized the Obama administration's change in course in a March 3 statement. He described the new policy as “not only a grave threat to marriage, but to religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy as well.”

The U.S. bishops also joined inter-religious leaders in a March 3 letter asking the House of Representatives to “rectify this lapse in judgment” on the part of the Justice Department.

Archbishop Dolan rejected the Obama administration's characterization of the Defense of Marriage Act as “discriminatory.” The law, he explained, was simply a means of confirming the essential and unchangeable meaning of marriage, as a “singular and irreplaceable institution.”

At the beginning of the 112th Congress, Archbishop Dolan cited support for the Defense of Marriage Act as being among the U.S. bishops' top legislative priorities –  alongside efforts to end abortion, help poor and vulnerable citizens, and conclude the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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