Politics

Democrats Fight DOMA In Court — But 60 Stay Home

The House Democrats went to court today to defeat the Defense of Marriage Act, filing a brief in an ongoing challenge to the law. Nearly one-third of the party’s caucus, however, didn’t join the party leadership in calling the law unconstitutional.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi arrives for the wedding of Rep. Barney Frank and his long-time partner James Ready in Newton, Massachusetts July 7, 2012. BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

One third of House Democrats broke with their leaders today and kept their names off a brief urging a federal appeals court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits federal recognition of marriages to those between one man and one woman.

The majority of Democrats joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s argument, which her office described in a news release as “the Democratic Members’ brief,” but the break among Democrats offers a glimpse at remaining divisions inside the party.

Pelosi, joined by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and 130 other House Democrats, told the federal appeals court in California that they believe Karen Golinski should succeed in her lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA’s federal definition of “marriage” and “spouse.”

The brief in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, similar to an earlier brief filed in another appeal challenging DOMA, made two primary points, first arguing that “laws like DOMA that disadvantage lesbians and gay men warrant heightened judicial review” and then arguing that, under such scrutiny, DOMA’s federal definitions of “marriage” and “spouse” should be found to be unconstitutional.

Pelosi and Hoyer have been the dissenting voices on the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), which is controlled 3-2 by the House Republican leadership and has been defending DOMA in court since the Obama administration stopped defending the law in February 2011. The stated aim of Pelosi’s brief is “to make clear that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group does not speak for a unanimous House on this issue.”

All of the House Democratic leadership signed on to the filing, as did the four out gay and lesbian members of Congress — Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jared Polis of Colorado and David Cicilline of Rhode Island — and a strong majority of the House Democrats.

But 60 Democratic members from across the country, many representing contested districts or relatively conservative regions, did not join the brief. Not signing on to the brief, however, does not necessarily signal support for DOMA. Twenty of the 60, for example, have signed on as co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill pending in Congress to repeal DOMA.

Although some Republicans had been asked to join the earlier brief, Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, told BuzzFeed that none chose to join that filing. Of today’s filing, Hammill added, “We had received no indications then or since that any Republican Member were willing to challenge their leadership’s decision to expend taxpayer funds on defending DOMA.”

The 60 Democrats who did not sign on to today’s brief are (with those co-sponsoring the DOMA repeal bill in italics):

Mid-Atlantic (9): Jason Altmire (PA), John C. Carney Jr. (DE), Mark Critz (PA), Elijah Cummings (MD), Tim Holden (PA), Bill Pascrell Jr. (NJ), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (MD), Allyson Schwartz (PA), Albio Sires (NJ)

Midwest (13): Leonard Boswell (IA), Russ Carnahan (MO), Jerry Costello (IL), John Dingell (MI), Joe Donnelly (IN), Marcy Kaptur (OH), Dale Kildee (MI), Ron Kind (WI), Daniel Lipinski (IL), David Loebsack (IA), Collin C. Peterson (MN), Betty Sutton (OH), Peter Visclosky (IN)

New England (3): James Langevin (RI), Stephen Lynch (MA), Michael Michaud (ME)

South (18): John Barrow (GA), Sanford Bishop (GA), Corrine Brown (FL), G.K. Butterfield (NC), Kathy Castor (FL), Ben Chandler (KY), Jim Cooper (TN), Larry Kissell (NC), Mike McIntyre (NC), Nick J. Rahall II (WV), Cedric Richmond (LA), Mike Ross (AR), David Scott (GA), Terri Sewell (AL), Heath Shuler (NC), Bennie G. Thompson (MS), Melvin Watt (NC), Frederica S. Wilson (FL)

Southwest (10): Ron Barber (AZ), Dan Boren (OK), Henry Cuellar (TX), Al Green (TX), Gene Green (TX), Rubén Hinojosa (TX), Ben Ray Luján (NM), Jim Matheson (UT), Ed Perlmutter (CO), Silvestre Reyes (TX)

West (7): Joe Baca (CA), Dennis Cardoza (CA), Jim Costa (CA), Peter DeFazio (OR), Norman Dicks (WA), Rick Larsen (WA), Kurt Schrader (OR)

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