You may have already heard about the Atlanta-based law firm that agreed to represent the House of Representatives in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and then changed its mind.
The law firm’s decision came after severe criticism internally, from the firm’s clients and from gay rights groups in Atlanta. The House of Representative’s contract with the Atlanta law firm seemingly prevented all of the firm’s employees for advocating for LGBT rights legislation during the time the firm was defending DOMA.
Its decision led partner and former Solicitor General Paul Clement to leave the firm and continue handling the DOMA case from a small law firm in Washington, D.C. Clement stated that it is a lawyer’s job to defend unpopular clients.
Since the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996, gay rights groups have brought multiple cases to challenge its constitutionality. Because of DOMA, the federal government cannot recognize same-sex marriage and states are not required to acknowledge same-sex marriages performed in other states. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration took the position that DOMA violated the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment and was, therefore, unconstitutional. The Administration directed the U.S. Department of Justice – which has defended DOMA since 1996 – to stop its defense of the law.
Speaker of the House John Boehner and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group have taken it upon themselves to defend DOMA. Currently, there are several cases pending before the federal courts that challenge the constitutionality of DOMA. There is also a bill pending before the U.S. Legislature to repeal DOMA; the Respect of Marriage Act was introduced last month by Representatives Dianne Feinstein (D – Calif) and Jerrold Nadler (D – NY) and co-sponsored by Nancy Pelosi.
The Defense of Marriage Act will remain in place unless repealed by Congress or held unconstitutional by a federal court. Only time will tell how this story will play out.