House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] on Friday announced that he is launching a legal advisory group to defend [press release] the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive]. "The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts, not by the president unilaterally, and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution," the press release said. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group is a five-member panel consisting of the Speaker of the House, Majority Leader, Majority Whip, Minority Leader and Minority Whip. Under House rules, the advisory group has the authority to instruct the non-partisan office of the House General Counsel to take legal action on behalf of the House of Representatives, the press release said.
The US Department of Justice announced last month [JURIST report] that it will no longer defend the constitutionality [press release] of Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage for federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman, in court cases challenging the provision. Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] acknowledged that the announcement marks a change in policy for the DOJ and the Obama administration, but noted that the change was necessary due to cases pending in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Holder explained that when the DOJ previously defended DOMA it had done so in jurisdictions with binding precedent stating that a permissive standard of review was applicable to laws dealing with sexual orientation.