House of Representatives speaker seeks to defend anti-gay marriage law

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The speaker of the House of Representatives has said that he will seek to defend cases brought against the government over the Defense of Marriage Act*, a law that president Barack Obama has said his administration will no longer defend.

The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner disagrees with president Obama’s description of the act as unconstitutional and seeks to make the House of Representatives counsel defend cases that are brought against the law.

“The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts — not by the president unilaterally,” he said in a statement.”This action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution.”

Mr Boehner said that a meeting of the Republican led, five-person House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group will be held to initiate action to defend the act. Under the rules governing the House of Representatives, the non-partisan office of the House General Counsel must take action on behalf of congressmen.

“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,” Mr Boehner’s statement added.

His opposite number, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Mr Obama’s decision not to defend the act was a “a bold step forward for civil rights and equality”.

“Speaker Boehner should follow his own advice and work with Democrats to create jobs, strengthen the middle class and responsibly reduce the deficit,” she added.

The decision by the president not to defend the law is as a result of two cases brought against the US government. They were filed in Connecticut and New York by gay rights groups argued that the law was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs were five married same-sex couples and a widower who have all been denied federal rights and protections because they are married to a person of the same sex.

The administration said the decision was made by Mr Obama himself, because he believes that the law is unconstitutional. However, a spokesman for the White House said that it is not a reflection of a change of the president’s position on gay marriage.

The president is still “grappling” with his personal views on the matter, however, he has consistently described DOMA as “unnecessary” and “unfair”.

* has used the American spelling of Defense as it is included in the title of the legislation.