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March 25, 2011

DOMA petitioners freed soon after Boehner office arrest

West Chester, Ohio--LGBT advocates delivering petitions to House Speaker John Boehner’s suburban Cincinnati district office were arrested on March 9 after staffers refused to accept the petitions urging him to drop his defense of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The event was organized by GetEqual Ohio, and supported by Equality Ohio and Impact Cincinnati in response to Boehner’s announcement that the House of Representatives would hire private attorneys to defend DOMA in court, despite President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder dropping their defense of the law because they believe it is unconstitutional.

Five of the 20 protesters were arrested after they began reading the names on the petitions aloud, following the refusal of the staff to allow them into the public office. The protesters who were arrested, veteran Sean Watkins, Morgan Bonney, her heterosexual brother Jesse Bonney, Liz Mills and Karay Miller, are all Ohio residents.

The petitions brought by the advocates but rejected by the speaker’s staff were signed by 30,000 residents of Boehner’s district.

The speaker’s decision to hire private attorneys to defend the legislation in court comes just months after he pledged to focus exclusively on righting the country’s economy. The projected $50 million price tag for the legal defense flies in the face of budgets cuts proposed for everything from education and consumer advocacy to Planned Parenthood and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The protesters brought the petitions during regular office hours, when constituents are expected to bring matters to the staff’s attention. Other LGBT advocates and bloggers expressed outrage at the violation of the protesters’ right to petition their elected officials.

“It is undeniable that citizens of the United States have a right to petition their government,” wrote blogger JaySays. “Such right falls squarely within the First Amendment and is a fundamental right enjoyed by all Americans . . . If Speaker Boehner is willing to violate the rights afforded within the ‘Bill of Rights’ there is no reason he will not continue to deny the rights provided by the 14th Amendment, which is the portion of the Constitution that deems DOMA unconstitutional.”

The blog Justifiable Anger’s Alexander Laska noted, “It is a horrible perversion of our freedom to assemble peacefully, and to petition our government, when our own Speaker of the House of Representatives refuses to see even his own constituents. Boehner has a lot of questions to answer now, not just on his waste of Congress’ time and taxpayers’ money defending DOMA, but also of locking out his own constituents.”

The five protesters were released shortly after their arrests, which Equality Ohio points to as proof that the arrest was simply an attempt to silence the protests.

“Speaker Boehner’s vote to defend the constitutionality of DOMA is appalling,” said Equality Ohio executive director Ed Mullen. “Speaker Boehner’s vote will result only in unnecessary, costly and time-consuming litigation.”

Equality Ohio’s director of programs, Kim Welter, noted, “The protesters who were arrested were peaceful, non-violent and simply trying to exercise their rights as citizens of this state and country to have their voices heard by their government. The arrests were simply uncalled for. GetEqual did an excellent job orchestrating this event in a respectful yet assertive manner.”

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