Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) are urging House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to abandon his efforts to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in a case involving a disabled Iraq war veteran. That veteran, Tracey Cooper-Harris — is on disability and receiving treatment for PTSD and multiple sclerosis — alleges that by failing to provide spousal benefits to her wife, the Veterans Affairs administration is infringing on her constitutional right to equal protection under the law. DOMA prevents federal agencies from recognizing same-sex relationships and Title 38 of the United States Code defines spouses as a person of the opposite sex.
House Republicans convened the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to defend the constitutionality of DOMA since the Obama administration announced that it is unconstitutional in February of 2010, but this is the first case in which Beohner is also defending Title 38.
“[W]e strongly object to spending taxpayer money to intervene in this case against a decorated veteran, Tracey Cooper-Harris, and her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris,” Pelosi and Hoyer write in their letter. “This decision clearly exceeds the scope of the original BLAG authorization, with which we initially disagreed”:
This intervention once again puts the House of Representatives on the wrong side of the future – supporting discrimination, unfairness, and the denial of basic equality to all Americans. We have objected to prior decisions by the House Republican BLAG members to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend discrimination. This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans. The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security. They risk their lives for the country they love – and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love. These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.
Pelosi and Hoyer are calling for “a formal vote of the BLAG on extending your defense of discrimination to veterans and their families” and a full examination by the Committee on House Administration and the House Ethics Committee of any “extension of the existing legal contract, any new contract, and any additional expenditure of public funds on behalf of outside counsel.” Democratic lawmakers have long raised questions about the GOP’s efforts to spend taxpayer dollars on DOMA and have asked Boehner to divert the resources to investigate the Trayvon Martin shooting.