Last week, President Barack Obama directed the U.S. Department of Justice to relinquish defending the Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed by Congress in 1996 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The positive I find in this announcement is that finally the Obama administration is being honest about its hostility toward DOMA — no more halfhearted statements. The negatives, however, are overwhelming.
As I told the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week, the president is responsible for defending the laws duly enacted by Congress. It’s disappointing that President Obama would unilaterally make a decision to abdicate that duty. The job of the executive branch is to enforce and defend the nation’s laws, not to selectively pick and choose. Thirty-one states have marriage amendments on the books defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Clearly, voters believe that the content of DOMA is a reasonable measure. This administration has been clear on its position on homosexual rights, but they stand outside the majority of Americans.
President Obama’s directive could have far reaching consequences. This decision could potentially impact every yet-to-be-decided case related to marriage (including California’s Proposition 8 appeal). Essentially, the fully compensated defense attorney is failing to show up for his defendant’s court date, an action where the judge would sanction the attorney. In what other area of the law would this be tolerated?
With the president ordering the Justice Department to abandon its duties, the only course of action to defend DOMA is for Congress to intervene. According to Politico, House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican majority on Friday will announce a course of legal action to defend DOMA, perhaps directing the House’s legal counsel to defend DOMA in court. (On a side note, this situation perfectly illustrates the importance of elections. Had Nancy Pelosi retained her position as House Speaker, it is highly unlikely that she would even consider defending DOMA in the Justice Department’s stead and the fate of marriage would be doomed.)
A breakdown of DOMA ties to a breakdown of American families. There is a litany of statistics showing that a one-man, one-woman marriage is the best institution in which to raise children and to lower the potential for poverty, illiteracy and crime. Even if the president refuses to order the defense of the laws of the land, we must continue to push for the defense of a law that is good for our families, our churches and our communities.