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House Republicans Cave On Marriage Fight

"[T]he House now seeks leave to withdraw as a party defendant." House Republicans stop defending statutes similar to the Defense of Marriage Act that ban recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages.

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WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders announced in a court filing Thursday that they will not defend remaining statutes similar to the Defense of Marriage Act that ban recognition of same-sex couples' marriages.

The move comes three weeks and one day after the Supreme Court ruled in Edith Windsor's case that the federal definition of marriage in DOMA was unconstitutional because it banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples' marriages.

"[T]he House has determined, in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in Windsor, that it no longer will defend that statute," lawyers for the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), controlled by House Republicans, wrote about veterans' benefits statutes that similarly ban recognition of same-sex couples' marriages.

"The document from the legal team speaks for itself," House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, told BuzzFeed, when asked for comment on the move.

Judge Richard Stearns had asked the parties in a lawsuit addressing the rights of service members and veterans and their same-sex spouses to give "any reasons why judgment should not enter for plaintiffs in this case," following the Supreme Court's June 26 decision striking down Section 3 of DOMA. The deadline for responding to Stearns' question is Thursday.

The plaintiffs in the case, filed in Massachusetts by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Chadbourne and Park, argued in a Wednesday filing in the case that the decision in Windsor's case controls the outcome in their case and that Stearns should decide in their favor.

In addition to challenging DOMA, the plaintiffs — led by Maj. Shannon McLaughlin, a judge advocate general in Massachusetts Army National Guard, and her wife, Casey — challenge two statutes in Title 38 of the U.S. Code regarding veterans' benefits that define "spouse" as "a person of the opposite sex."

House Republican leaders, which control the vote of the BLAG, have been defending Section 3 of DOMA and Title 38 in court challenges.

BLAG's lawyers on Thursday, however, wrote:

The Supreme Court recently resolved the issue of DOMA Section 3's constitutionality. See United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. __ (2013), 2013 WL 3196928 (U.S. June 26, 2013). The Windsor decision necessarily resolves the issue of DOMA Section 3's constitutionality in this case. While the question of whether 38 U.S.C. § 101(3), (31) is constitutional remains open, the House has determined, in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in Windsor, that it no longer will defend that statute. Accordingly, the House now seeks leave to withdraw as a party defendant.

[Update at 4:10 p.m.: The Human Rights Campaign's president called the news "historic" — while still taking a swipe at the expense of the defense of DOMA and similar laws.

"After millions of taxpayer dollars wasted defending discrimination, it's a historic sign of the times that the House leadership is dropping its pointless quest to maintain second-class status for lesbian and gay couples," HRC president Chad Griffin said.]

[Update at 4:45 p.m.: The spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, pushed for additional, immediate action.

"The Supreme Court's ruling is clear. Rather than trying to delay justice for particular married gay and lesbian couples and their families, Speaker Boehner should immediately file motions to end House Republicans' involvement in the remaining cases and stop spending taxpayer dollars to defend unconstitutional discrimination," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told BuzzFeed.

In addition to the McLaughlin case, there at least remains unresolved a case challenging similar statutes brought by Tracey and Maggie Cooper-Harris in federal court in California. Additional cases outstanding include Cardona v. Shinseki and Bishop v. United States.]

Read The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group's Motion:

Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Chris Geidner at

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