Paul Clement, a high profile attorney hand-picked by John Boehner — who is spending 1.5 million tax dollars to defend a federal ban on gay marriage — is arguing DOMA must live because of polygamy.
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, decided last year to invest $1.5 million — your tax dollars — to defend DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act that bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, after President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder both declared the 1996 law to be unconstitutional. Literally dozens of federal judges have weighed in since — and agreed with the President.
Speaker Boehner tasked the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to defend DOMA, and appointed a handpicked high profile private attorney, Paul Clement, to defend challenges to DOMA in federal court. Clement’s batting average for all the DOMA cases he’s defended is .000. Clement, who also famously lost the fight to strike down Obamacare, is a a former United States Solicitor General who served under President George W. Bush.
Now, Paul Clement, hand-picked by John Boehner, is arguing that DOMA must live because of polygamy.
In the heartbreaking case of Windsor v. United States, Edie Windsor, an 83-year old widow who is fighting — and has won in several federal courts — a “death tax” of $363,000 that, if the federal government recognized her legal marriage to her wife who passed away, she would not have pay. Windsor married Thea Syper two years before her death, although the couple had been together for 40 years.
“The lawyer [Paul Clement] for House Republican leaders had to reach all the way back to 1885 today when asked where the ‘traditional understanding’ of marriage could be found in federal case law — referring to a case dealing with polygamy in the Utah territory,” Chris Geidner, writing at Buzzfeed yesterday, reported on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals trial in New York:
That case, decided about polygamy in Utah before women were guaranteed the right to vote, came only 20 years after the end of the Civil War and more than 80 years before the court would strike down bans on interracial marriage. Today, it was one of the underlying arguments in House Republican leaders’ case that the Supreme Court recognizes a “traditional understanding” of marriage that the Defense of Marriage Act is seeking to uphold.
The arguments were at points similar to arguments heard in April before the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which determined that the law is unconstitutional. Today’s arguments, however, included an admission by Clement that if courts decide that laws targeting gays and lesbians should be viewed skeptically, like those based on race or sex, then it would be more difficult to justify DOMA.
“That said, I’ll try it,” Clement told the judges, noting that “there’s no way to preserve the definition of marriage [as one man and one woman] other than by preserving the definition. It becomes somewhat circular.”
Geidner examines broad issues of DOMA and scrutiny — how the courts decide what standards to use in determining whether or not DOMA is unconstitutional — and concludes with this:
More than 30 years before the U.S. Constitution would be amended to prohibit voting discrimination based on sex, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a law that required those in the Utah territory to take an oath that included a statement that the male was violating bigamy or polygamy prohibitions.
The case, which cited the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision declaring that slaves were not citizens under the U.S. Constitution as evidence of governmental powers in the territories, was mentioned by Clement. It’s the case, he told Judge Chester Straub, a Clinton appointee to the bench, where the Supreme Court referenced the “traditional understanding” of marriage.
The 1885 case takes a hard line on the role of marriage in the post-Civil War nation, in reference to the practice of polygamy in the Utah territory.
The court wrote that “no legislation can be supposed more wholesome and necessary in the founding of a free, self-governing commonwealth … than that which seeks to establish it on the basis of the idea of the family [is] consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony.”
That definition of marriage, the court wrote in 1885, is “the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization; the best guaranty of that reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement.”
Steven Thrasher, writing “For Elderly Gay Widow Edith Windsor, The GOP Is All For High Taxes,” today in The Daily Beast, notes:
“When Barack Obama proved unwilling to hound an octogenarian widow for a tax bill she never should have been charged, House Speaker John Boehner proved more than willing to take up the task—even at a cost to taxpayers of far more than the money she owed.”
Death and taxes, and GOP hate and ignorance. Four things that you can aways count on.
Image circa 1877, via Wikipedia: Brigham Young’s 12 widows lament. Caricature in a newspaper about Mormon polygamy. Text: “In memoriam Brigham Young. And the place which knew him once shall know him no more.” It references the apocryphal “long bed” story (and illustration) found in chapter 15 of Mark Twain‘s 1872 book Roughing It.
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.