By Eric Rader
Earlier this year, President Obama announced that his administration would no longer defend the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” in federal court. This discriminatory law prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, and allows the states to refuse to honor such unions performed in other states. Several gay couples have mounted legal challenges to the law, arguing that it violates the constitutional right to equal protection of the laws. A Massachusetts court ruled in two separate cases last year that the law indeed was a violation of the Constitution and should be struck down. In the meantime, other cases challenging DOMA are moving forward in Connecticut.
Throughout the earlier DOMA cases, the Obama Administration defended the law. Many people in the LGBT community were perplexed by the president’s legal defense of a law that he was attempting to overturn. The president’s legal advisors responded that as president, Obama must defend laws that are on the books, even if he disagrees with them. Rather than having the judiciary strike down this law, the president expressed his preference for repealing it through the legislative process. However, now that Republicans control the House, legislative repeal of DOMA is off the table. Thus, judicial action is the only route to ending this obnoxious law. The president’s decision to abandon his legal defense of DOMA would seem to make it easier for the courts to strike it down.
Unfortunately, House Republicans have moved in to fill the legal void. Speaker John Boehner has announced that the Republican majority will hire its own lawyers to defend the law in court. To add insult to injury, the Speaker of the House wants to redirect taxpayer funds to pay for the House’s legal effort to defend DOMA. House Republicans have hired a high-priced law firm to mount their legal defense, and it could cost millions of dollars. All of this comes at a time when the House leadership is seeking to make massive cuts to vital federal programs in an effort to supposedly balance the federal budget. Austerity is the House GOP mantra, except when they want to treat gays as second-class citizens.
In their successful effort to recapture control of the House last fall, Republicans said very little about social issues. Gay marriage, abortion, and other social issues were rarely brought up by GOP candidates last year, and the Tea Party movement has largely ignored them in their policy agenda. Yet, now that the Republican Party is in control of the House, they are using their power to pursue a rabidly reactionary social agenda. Their first strike was an unsuccessful effort to cut off family planning funds for Planned Parenthood, ostensibly in the name of fiscal discipline. In their legislative agreement with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown a few weeks ago, the House leadership succeeded in adding a policy amendment that prevents Washington D.C. from using its own local funds (not federal money) to finance abortions. Now the Republicans want to use federal money to defend discrimination against gay and lesbian couples. Social issues have absolutely nothing to do with the federal deficit, but the GOP is using the budget as a pretext to push their right-wing ideology.
When the voters went to the polls last November, they were most certainly not focused on social issues, but rather on their economic discontent. It appears that Republicans feel they won a mandate to pursue regressive social policies, regardless of what the public wants. This again points to the importance of elections and the need for all LGBT citizens to participate in the political process. Every member of the House of Representatives is on the ballot in 2012.
For many years, Republicans have used gay rights as a wedge to divide voters and elect their candidates to office. This cynical ploy was a key part of George W. Bush’s electoral strategy when he won reelection in 2004. However, times have changed. Support for same-sex marriage is increasing across the country, with some surveys now showing that a majority of citizens favor allowing gay couples to marry. Most citizens favor equal job opportunities for our community, and support allowing gay and lesbian troops to serve openly in the military. House Republicans are pursuing an archaic agenda that most of the nation rejects. In the weeks ahead, it’s important that we remind our representatives in Washington that we don’t want them to use taxpayer money to defend discrimination, and that DOMA should be allowed to die. If Republicans continue their effort to defend this law, we should work to defeat them in 2012.
Contact your U.S. Representative — ask him or her to oppose the Republican effort to defend discrimination: http://www.house.gov.