How A Top GOP Economist Convinced A Federal Court To Strike Down DOMA

Douglas Holtz-Eakin is one of the Republican Party’s top economic pundits. He served as a top advisor to Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) 2008 presidential campaign. He organized an amicus brief which the Eleventh Circuit relied on heavily in its decision striking down the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that his brief is riddled with factual errors and miscalculations. And he is one of the nation’s top evangelists for the idea that we can solve our economic woes simply by saving rich people from the crushing burden of having to pay their fair share of taxes.

Before Holtz-Eakin began his second career as a salesman for Republican economic policy, however, he actually was a serious economist. In 2004, Holtz-Eakin served as Director of the Congressional Budget Office, and he was asked to analyse the impact on the federal budget of eliminating the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and extending marriage equality throughout the nation. According to the top Republican economist, opposition to marriage equality cannot be squared with the GOP’s supposed devotion to deficit reduction, as marriage equality slightly reduces the deficit:

The potential effects on the federal budget of recognizing same-sex marriages are numerous. Marriage can affect a person’s eligibility for federal benefits such as Social Security. Married couples may incur higher or lower federal tax liabilities than they would as single individuals. In all, the General Accounting Office has counted 1,138 statutory provisions — ranging from the obvious cases just mentioned to the obscure (landowners’ eligibility to negotiate a surface-mine lease with the Secretary of Labor) — in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving “benefits, rights, and privileges.” In some cases, recognizing same-sex marriages would increase outlays and revenues; in other cases, it would have the opposite effect. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that on net, those impacts would improve the budget’s bottom line to a small extent: by less than $1 billion in each of the next 10 years (CBO’s usual estimating period). That result assumes that same-sex marriages are legalized in all 50 states and recognized by the federal government.

According to last night’s federal court decision holding DOMA unconstitutional, Holtz-Eakin’s economic analysis is not simply an interesting historic artifact — it’s also a body blow to the forces trying to protect anti-gay discrimination from the Constitution. In defending the law, anti-gay Members of Congress proposed four reasons why they believed excluding gay couples from their constitutional right to marry is somehow justified, among them a claim that DOMA “is justified as an enactment designed to conserve scarce government resources.” Holtz-Eakin’s analysis refutes this claim, and the district court relied upon it in explaining why DOMA must go down.


In many ways, the resurrection of Holtz-Eakin’s days as a non-partisan economist is a metaphor for why conservative efforts to cling to anti-gay discrimination are doomed to failure. The most intriguing line in yesterday’s opinion is when it characterizes DOMA as an attempt to “establish[] an across-the-board federal definition of marriage limiting it to heterosexual couples, and preempting any opportunity to test the impact of state laws evolving to recognize same-sex marriage.” When marriage equality was nothing more than an idea, conservatives could scare the nation with warnings that gay couples would recruit your children, raise your taxes and destroy your marriage. Now it is a reality in many states — even if the federal government still needs to extend benefits to these couples — and the parade of horribles that anti-gay groups predicted never made it out the gate.

Holtz-Eakin’s memo demonstrates, however, that anti-gay discrimination was doomed even before America got its first taste of marriage equality. Reality leaks through, even if Congress does everything in its power to keep it away.