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Urging House Republican Leaders Not to Defend DOMA


Location: Washington, DC

Today, in response to House Speaker John Boehner's announcement that he will convene a meeting of the Bipartisan House Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) for the purpose of initiating action to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Barney Frank (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jared Polis (D-CO), David Cicilline (D-RI), and John Conyers (D-MI) issued the following joint statement:

"The President correctly concluded last week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court -- nor should the House of Representatives. In the 15 years since the passage of DOMA, the harmful stereotypes used to justify this law have been shattered. There simply is no legitimate reason for denying committed gay and lesbian couples the legal security, rights and responsibilities that marriage provides.

"Neither the President nor DOJ has failed in their duty to execute and defend the law faithfully. The Administration considered this issue carefully, over several years, and opted not to defend DOMA in court after extensive study of the legal and factual issues at stake. Based on the lack of any reasonable arguments that justify the harm that DOMA imposes on loving gay and lesbian couples, DOJ correctly concluded that Section 3 of the law violates the Constitution.

"The President's further decision that DOJ should not be expected or required to make harmful and unreasonable arguments that demean its credibility, and that of the American people, was appropriate. While the decision not to continue defending a law is rare -- as it should be -- it is not without precedent. The President has pledged to honor his duty to faithfully execute the law by enforcing Section 3 of DOMA until it is either struck down or repealed. His courageous decision also honors his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution' by ensuring that the rights it guarantees have meaning.

"It has been 15 years since the Congress enacted DOMA, and the myths and stereotypes used to support its enactment have been shattered. Married gay and lesbian couples pay taxes, serve their communities, struggle to balance work and family, raise children and care for aging parents like other Americans. Their contributions and needs are no different than anyone else's. The majority of Americans understand this and now support extending the time-honored tradition of marriage to loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.

"House Leadership has a unique opportunity to move forward rather than clinging to the past, and we urge them to do so. A decision not to defend DOMA would honor and respect all American families and would harm no one. Despite some claims to the contrary, that decision would also support states' rights by respecting and treating equally the lawful marriages of each and every state."

House Speaker Boehner's announcement was issued in response to the Obama Administration's conclusion that Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage for purposes of federal law and prohibits the recognition of married gay and lesbian couples, is unconstitutional, and should not be defended in court. In a letter last week to Speaker Boehner, Attorney General Holder cited the significant history of purposeful discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans and the lack of any reasonable arguments to support the law in explaining that, while the Administration will continue to enforce the law until it is repealed or struck down, "this is the rare case where the proper course is to forego the defense of this statute" in court.

The Members also announced that they will soon re-introduce legislation -- known as the Respect for Marriage Act -- to repeal DOMA. They said: "The President has long urged Congress to overturn this discriminatory law and we intend to do so. We look forward to working with Members and advocates from across the country and the political spectrum to rid our nation of this historical stain."

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