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Pelosi, Hoyer rebuke Boehner for DOMA defense in veteran case

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Saturday, March 31, 2012
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WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders are continuing to criticize Speaker John Boehner for defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court and accuse him of going beyond his existing authority in defense of the anti-gay law ahead of his planned intervention in a lesbian veteran’s litigation against the statute.

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer

In a letter dated March 30, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) write to the speaker to express concern about Boehner intervening on behalf of DOMA in the case of Cooper-Harris v. United States.

“This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans,” Pelosi and Hoyer write. “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.”

On Feb. 1, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the lawsuit against DOMA in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of Tracey Cooper-Harris, who’s seeking benefits as a disabled Army veteran for her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris. The two were married in California in 2008 before Proposition 8 took effect.

Boehner’s attorney’s has yet to file the intervention, but the Washington Blade has obtained documents revealing their intent to intervene in the lawsuit. Informed sources are expecting a formal filing of the intervention next week.

Boehner will be defending not just DOMA in court, but Title 38, a law governing veteran benefits that as written precludes same-sex married couples from obtaining benefits. It’s the first time the speaker has elected to defend this statute in addition to DOMA.

In a letter last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress that the Obama administration would no longer defend portions of Title 38 related to same-sex couples as it has with DOMA.

It’s taking on defense of Title 38 that Pelosi and Hoyer belief are beyond Boehner’s authority. In the letter, the lawmakers request a formal Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group vote on defending Title 38 and ask that any extension of the existing legal contract receive prior examination by the Committee on House Administration and the House Ethics Committee.

Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesperson, issued a statement saying the speaker’s intervention in the case against Title 38 is aligned with House rules.

“It was determined through consultations with each office — the process used to make such decisions regularly under then-Speaker Pelosi — that a majority of the BLAG believes the constitutionality of this statute, which the Attorney General described as ‘identical in material respect to the language of Section 3 of DOMA,’ should be determined by the judicial branch, not through a unilateral decree of the President,” Buck said.

Tracey Cooper-Harris was diagnosed in 2010 with multiple sclerosis, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has determined is connected to her military service in Iraq and Afghanistan, She’s been receiving disability benefits as a veteran, but is unable to receive spousal benefits that she would otherwise be entitled to if she were in an opposite-sex marriage. Among them are disability benefits meant to ensure the financial stability of spouses.

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