HRC Blog

Right-Wing Republicans Again Waste Time on the Defense of Marriage Act

Post submitted by Brian Moulton, Former HRC Legal Director

Yesterday and today, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for periodic oversight hearings.  While Democrats, and most Republicans, on both committees chose to focus on the multitude of issues facing the Justice Department (DOJ), some right-wing Republicans used the Attorney General’s time to grill him about the Department’s decision to stop defending DOMA and threaten to cut DOJ funding to cover the House’s costs of hiring private counsel for its own defense of the discriminatory law.

In yesterday’s House hearing, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Dan Lungren (R-CA) and Trey Gowdy (R-SC) all attacked the Attorney General for DOJ’s position.  Rep. Sensenbrenner accused the President and Holder of making a purely political decision and usurping Congress’s authority, and called for DOJ’s budget to be cut in order to cover the costs of the House defending the law.  Rep. Lungren argued that the President wasn’t up front about his beliefs about the constitutionality of DOMA during his campaign.  (The President openly opposed DOMA when he was running for office.)  And, perhaps most egregious of all was Rep. Gowdy’s classic attempt to try and change the conversation, rather than talk about how DOMA harms actual LGBT families, by questioning the AG on the level of scrutiny appropriate for laws barring polygamy and incest.  Thankfully, long-standing LGBT ally Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) was there to counter some of his colleagues rhetoric.

Today’s Senate hearing was much less focused on DOMA.  Only one member of the committee, staunch anti-LGBT Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), took the Attorney General to task.  He attacked the Justice Department’s sound and deliberative reasoning in determining it could no longer defend DOMA, calling that decision a “failure of duty” by Holder and the President.  Again, a long-time friend of our community, Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), stepped in to remind his colleagues that there have been a number of instances, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, when DOJ has determined that it could not defend a law passed by Congress.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about these hearings, however, was not the expected rhetoric from our predictable enemies in both the House and Senate, but the fact that most Republicans steered clear of discussing DOMA entirely.  Maybe they’ve finally begun to understand that the American people want them to focus on real issues rather than defending a discriminatory and unconstitutional law that hurts American families, and that a majority of Americans want to see repealed.

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