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House Leader Surprised By Obama Not Defending DOMA

This article is more than 8 years old.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Thursday that Congress is mulling its options after President Barack 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 only 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 not from the White House but 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.

"If you are talking about marriage, I've always been for traditional marriage," he said. "I certainly wouldn't support bigotry toward anyone."

Cantor also said the House budget will include proposals on how to curb spending on entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

The changes won't affect seniors or those approaching retirement, Cantor said, but "for rest of us, we're going to have to come to grips with the fact that those programs are going to have to change if we're going to save them for the rest of us."

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.

The protesters held signs reading "Mr. Cantor, What's a Patient's Life Worth to You" and carried a banner that said "Broken Promises Kill."

Immediately following the speech, several students inside the hall rose and held a banner that said "Fully Fund Global Health."

Cantor said he understood the students' passion, but he said the country was in a fiscal crisis and had to make tough choices.

"We don't have the money. We just don't," he said. "We'll all have to figure out how to do a little bit more with a little bit less."

Cantor also defended efforts by Republicans in the House to strip Planned Parenthood of federal family-planning grants. An anti-abortion group recently made public a video it said shows a Planned Parenthood employee in New York City advising a man posing as a pimp and seeking health services for underage sex workers.

"That is not where most Americans feel their taxpayer dollars ought to be spent," he said.

This program aired on February 25, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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