Updated: 5:58 p.m.
House Republicans blasted President Barack Obama for deeming a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, calling Wednesday’s decision a political stunt and a distraction from fiscal issues.
“While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the President will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in a statement.
Likewise, Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said in a statement, “The White House is more interested in rekindling hot button political issues to distract from the current debate over how to fund our government in the most fiscally responsible way.”
Attorney General Eric Holder notified lawmakers Wednesday that the Justice Department will no longer defend in court a provision of the 1996 law that directs the federal government to recognize only marriages between men and women.
But Holder noted that DOMA will still remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or a judge strikes it down. Although the administration is still obligated to enforce the law, “this administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court,” he said.
The National Organization for Marriage called on the House to intervene and defend DOMA.
House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith filed an amicus brief last year in a Massachusetts case charging that the Justice Department was not properly defending DOMA. That case is currently pending appeal.
“The Justice Department has a responsibility to defend the laws passed by Congress regardless of the personal political views of the President or the Attorney General,” the Texas Republican said in a statement Wednesday.
“It is a transparent attempt to shirk the Department’s duty to defend the laws passed by Congress,” Smith added. “This is the real politicization of the Justice Department — when the personal views of the President override the government’s duty to defend the law of the land.”
House Democrats cheered Obama’s decision. Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (Minn.), co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Wednesday’s announcement marked another victory for gay rights following last year’s enactment of a repeal of the military ban on openly gay service members. The law did not result in the immediate repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” but sets forth a process for doing so that requires Pentagon certification.
“As with the repeal of the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, this decision proves that when progressives organize and speak with a unified voice, we make America better and stronger,” they said in a statement.
They added, “Moments like this give us hope that one day, our government will fulfill America’s great promise of equality and stop discrimination against our citizens based on sexual orientation.”
Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) circulated a letter to colleagues Wednesday to rally support for their legislation to repeal DOMA, saying the administration’s announcement brought new momentum to their cause. But Democrats were unsuccessful in passing the legislation last year, and they face a more difficult battle now that they are in the minority in the House and have a narrower majority in the Senate.
Nevertheless, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised to press on.
“Since its inception, the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act has long been viewed as a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution,” she said in a statement. “The fight for marriage equality is far from over, and we will continue to work towards the day when all American families are treated with respect and viewed equally in the eyes of the law.”