Bob Barr on DOMA



Rep. Bob Barr, the four-term Republican congressman from Georgia, the Libertarian Party’s 2008 presidential candidate, and the author of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, no longer supports the bill he wrote 15 years ago — one considered by many to be a case study in cynical election-year politics, and one that helped provide a template for gay-marriage-as-potent-political-wedge in future campaigns.

Barr’s evolved position is not news: He has disavowed DOMA multiple times, whether in televised speeches or newspaper op-eds (“I have concluded that DOMA is neither meeting the principles of federalism it was supposed to, nor is its impact limited to federal law,” Barr wrote in 2009 in the Los Angeles Times). And the man once considered public enemy No. 1 by some gay rights advocates now supports the federal Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the law.

But it was perhaps no small feat for the Log Cabin Republicans that Barr gave a first-ever keynote address at their national convention over the weekend. Joined in attendance by gay Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger and Dan Woods, the lead attorney in Log Cabin’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” federal lawsuit, Barr opted for the small Saturday evening dinner event in Dallas over the annual convention of the National Rifle Association, where he serves on the board of directors.

“It’s a benchmark,” said Log Cabin Republicans deputy executive director Christian Berle said of Barr’s attendance, “about the broader support for groups like Log Cabin, and especially gay and lesbian Americans, playing an important role in the national political dialogue.”

Prior to his keynote address, Barr spoke to The Advocate about DOMA, the House Republicans’ efforts to defend it in court, and the Obama administration’s pledge to continue enforcing a law it now believes to be unconstitutional.

The Advocate: What was your reaction when House Republican leadership moved to authorize legal defense of DOMA in federal court?
Rep. Bob Barr: I expected it. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s fine to have a good debate over these things.

Did they ever confer with you? As the author of the Defense of Marriage Act?
No. I hear from very few of them. I get along with them all fine, but no, they didn’t.
But Congress has every right to defend a law that it had passed, and if the majority of members still believe in it, that’s fine. Let them defend it.

Now, I don’t fault the [Obama] administration for taking a different view. I don’t adhere to the notion, or the philosophy, that simply because something is enshrined in law, an administration has to defend it. That doesn’t make any sense to me. If an administration doesn’t believe in a principle behind a law, they shouldn’t defend it.

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said in February that while the administration would no longer defend DOMA in court, it would continue to enforce it. Yet some LGBT advocates and their allies on Capitol Hill have been pushing the administration to mitigate the damage done by DOMA until it is repealed or settled by the courts. This has included putting on hold green card petitions involving married binational gay couples as well as halting deportations of such persons who would be eligible for obtaining a green card were it not for DOMA. What do you believe the administration should do?
On the one hand, I can understand from a political standpoint why [the administration] is sort of bifurcating this. But to be consistent, you can’t say, “We don’t support DOMA and what it says, and we’re not even going to defend it from a legal standpoint, but we’re going to enforce it.” That’s the same thing [President George W.] Bush would do: “Hey, I recognize this law is unconstitutional, but golly gee, you know, it’s there, so I’ve got to enforce it.”

If any administration believes that a law is unconstitutional and should not be enforced, then I think they have an obligation to take steps to see that it’s not enforced. I don’t know exactly what the administration could do, because I haven’t sat down and analyzed it. But I know that modern administrations, both Democrat and Republican, did a lot of things through executive orders, for example, to sort of skirt having to enforce certain laws that they don’t like. And they ought to be advocating in Congress for its repeal. If they truly believe that it’s not constitutional, that it’s not proper, that’s what they ought to be doing.

But on the other hand, I certainly recognize that there’s a political price to be paid for that — why they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too.

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