Cantor ‘taken aback’ by DOMA decision

House majority leader Eric Cantor spoke at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government yesterday. House majority leader Eric Cantor spoke at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government yesterday. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)
By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / February 25, 2011

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CAMBRIDGE — US House majority leader Eric Cantor said yesterday that Congress is mulling its options after President Obama ordered his administration to stop defending the constitutionality of a federal law that bans recognition of gay marriage.

The Virginia Republican said he was “a little taken aback’’ after the administration said Wednesday that it would no longer fight legal challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“I’ve never been around when a president decided not to defend a law on the books, and to me it is contrary to the sense that we are a nation of laws,’’ he said. “There is a process by which this country reviews its laws.’’

Cantor said the Republican-led Congress is weighing its next steps, but he did not offer any details.

“There are some options available to us legislatively that we’re looking at,’’ he said.

Cantor made his comments in response to a question following a speech he gave at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Several lawsuits have challenged the constitutionality of the 15-year-old law.

In Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex marriages, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office had filed one of those legal challenges, arguing in part that the federal law forced the state to essentially keep two sets of books for same-sex couples, one for state benefits allowed the couples and the other for federal benefits they were denied.

First word of the change came from the Department of Justice. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Obama had concluded that DOMA was legally indefensible.

Cantor said he believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“I certainly wouldn’t support bigotry toward anyone,’’ he said.

Hundreds of students gathered outside the venue to protest Cantor’s visit, faulting Republicans for deep cuts in the House budget to programs like AIDS and global health initiatives, and AmeriCorps.