DOMA Doubts



 Equal rights watchers should be prepared, however, for a new wave of demeaning legal rhetoric. House speaker John Boehner wasted no time in criticizing the administration’s move. Republican leadership vowed to defend the law and voted to hire what may be an army of outside attorneys in order to do so. “I think we’ll see assertions like those the Bush administration made,” says Lambda Legal national marriage project director Jennifer Pizer, “and we may see some new, creatively uglier, and perhaps even less grounded-in-reality arguments than we’ve seen to date, as there are some passionate antigay activists and others dedicating themselves to this field. It sometimes looks like the desperation of the last-gaspers, but I don’t expect the debate to be over imminently, despite how much some of the arguments strain credulity.”

In March, House Democrats reintroduced legislation to repeal DOMA, accompanied by a first-ever companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by a healthy coterie of senators including Dianne Feinstein of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Be on the lookout for the Senate’s first hearing on the issue, should legislators put some muscle behind the bill.) Though the DOMA repeal bill doesn’t stand a chance in the Republican-controlled House, its introduction is nevertheless an important step toward equality.

What’s yet to be seen is whether President Obama will mitigate the harmful, everyday effects of a 15-year-old legislative mistake. “The administration took a middle-road position by acknowledging DOMA’s unconstitutionality but continuing to enforce it until the courts or Congress invalidate or repeal it,” Pizer says. “And yet there likely are many situations in which the administration legitimately can and should reduce the harmful effects of DOMA. We already have seen some examples, and I believe we will see more in the coming months.”

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