WASHINGTON -- Gay marriage opponents in Congress derided the Supreme Court's rejection of a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman and vowed Wednesday to refocus their efforts on the state level.
"A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
At his direction, the U.S. House had been defending the Defense of Marriage Act in the federal courts - at a taxpayer cost of more than $3 million - despite President Obama's 2011 order that the Justice Department stop defending the constitutionality of the law.
The Supreme Court Wednesday declared key provisions of the law unconstitutional.
In his statement, Boehner said his decision to continue to defend DOMA has also been fueled by a belief that the court system, and not the executive branch, should make the judgments about the nation's laws. "The House intervened in this case because the constitutionality of a law should be judged by the Court, not by the president unilaterally," he said.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in an appearance on conservative commentator Glenn Beck's radio program, likewise echoed the call for opponents of the decision to focus on individual states. "The good side to this ruling is that they have affirmed to states that this is a state issue and states can decide," he said, offering this message to people who oppose recognition of gay marriage: "The battle is going to be lost at the federal level. Concentrate on your state."
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said Wednesday he would push Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman,
With Wednesday's additional ruling allowing gay marriage to resume in California, it will be legal in 13 states and Washington, D.C.
In recent months there has been a groundswell of support for gay marriage in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which now has a majority of senators, 55, who are publicly in favor of it. The majority of supporters are Democrats, while three Republican senators, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, also support gay marriage. There continues to be broad opposition of gay marriage in the GOP-controlled House.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., noted that Wednesday's ruling does not fully repeal DOMA and the law still allows states to refuse to acknowledge gay couples legally married in other states. She called for additional legislative action to fully repeal the law, although it is unlikely to occur in a divided Congress and more likely to continue to play out in the courts.
There are six openly gay or bisexual members of the U.S. House, and one openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. All of them are Democrats.
Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the first openly gay House member elected from New York, got emotional at a Capitol Hill news conference as he recounted how he called his partner, Randy Florke, to tell him about the Supreme Court rulings.
"I really couldn't get the words out," said Maloney, who has been with Florke for 21 years and with whom he has adopted three children. "It was the first time ... that I wasn't talking to him as someone who is seen as 'less than.' "
"What this decision means for families like mine is ... when I get up and get the kids ready for school and make sure that the left shoe is on the left foot or pick them up from soccer ... that they don't have to grow up in a country wondering why our family is less than someone else's. That's a good thing."