House GOP moves to defend DOMA

An opponent of Proposition 8 holds a gay pride flag outside of San Francisco's City Hall, after the ruling to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage, August 4, 2010.
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To avoid a messy floor fight on gay marriage, House Speaker John Boehner announced today a path forward to defend a federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Boehner will convene the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group -- which consists of the top three Republicans and top two Democrats in the House - to vote on whether House lawyers should defend what's known as the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

This move is in response to an announcementearlier this week by Attorney General Eric Holder, who said that the Obama administration would not defend the constitutionality of the law in the courts.

"It is regrettable that the Obama Administration has opened this divisive issue at a time when Americans want their leaders to focus on jobs and the challenges facing our economy," Boehner said in a statement today. "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."

President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in 1996 when Republicans controlled the House. In addition to defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, it absolves states from recognizing same-sex marriages that are legal in other states. Since 1996, the law has been subject to lawsuits in lower courts challenging its constitutionality.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi slammed Boehner's decision to defend the law both on its merits and for the money it would take to defend the law.

"Aside from standing up for a discriminatory law and failing to focus on jobs and the economy, this action places Republicans squarely on the wrong side of history and progress," Pelosi said in a statement. "In addition, this decision will burden the staff and monetary resources of the Office of the General Counsel, and given the complexity of these cases and the number of courts involved, it is likely this will cost the House hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars."

The move by Boehner to convene the legal advisory group, instead of bringing a bill to the floor, ensures that Republicans get the outcome they want since Republicans have a majority on the panel.

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    Jill Jackson is a CBS News senior political producer.