House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland were outvoted by House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy in the vote to hire outside counsel to defend DOMA, which the Obama administration said it believed could not survive constitutional scrutiny and would no longer defend it in court, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.
"This action by the House will ensure that this law's constitutionality is decided by the courts, rather than by the president unilaterally," Boehner said in a statement.
Using the bipartisan board, established about 15 years ago, allowed Republicans to avoid a floor vote on the hot-button issue, observers note.
Depending on hourly rates, observers said the legal costs could soar, noting there are 10 lawsuits in four states challenging the statute. At issue is Section 3 of the act, which defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
A legal defense "is a far-flung adventure," for House Republican leaders, Fred Sainz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights lobbying group, told the Chronicle. "They are going to be in district courts and appellate courts, all over the United States -- in California, in New York, in Connecticut, in Massachusetts."
The Defense of Marriage Act bars same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits available to heterosexual married couples, such as immigration rights, estate tax benefits and Social Security spousal benefits.
Pelosi, who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, said Wednesday the House "should not be in the business of defending an unconstitutional statute that is neither rational nor serves any governmental interest. DOMA actually discriminates against American families."