Republican Representative Trent Franks on Friday led a House subcommittee on President Barack Obama's decision to no longer defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Clinton-era law that bans federal recognition of the marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

Franks, the chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, who earlier said the president's gay marriage decision could be an impeachable offense, revealed in his opening statement the true nature of the ambiguously named Defending Marriage hearing.

Franks said the hearing was to discuss Obama's February 23 decision to no longer defend DOMA in court.

The 10-member panel includes some of Congress' most virulent opponents of gay rights, including Representatives Steve King of Iowa and Jim Jordan of Ohio. But when all 5 of his Republican colleagues failed to appear, Franks found himself in the minority.

Democrats on the panel came out in defense of the president and against the law.

“Let's be clear: DOMA isn't just an unconstitutional law, it's dumb public policy,” Illinois Representative Mike Quigley said. “Every one of the stated rationales for DOMA has been refuted by our better judgment or our shared experiences. … There's nothing radical about being allowed to marry the person you hold closest in your heart. And there's nothing radical about expecting that union to receive the full protection of the law.”

New York Representative Jerrold Nadler, the lead sponsor in the House of a bill that would repeal DOMA, reiterated his call for the law's end.

“Rather than defending DOMA in court, Congress should be working to repeal it,” Nadler said.

“Far from demeaning, trivializing, or destroying the institution of marriage, lesbian and gay couples have embraced this time-honored tradition and the commitment and serious legal duties of marriage. The exclusion of any married couples from programs like Social Security defies logic. The fact that DOMA carves out an entire class of married citizens based on sexual orientation also violates constitutional equal protection guarantees.”

The panel heard testimony from three witnesses: Maggie Gallagher, the chair of the anti-gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage (NOM), Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a critic of the administration's defense of DOMA in court, and Carlos Ball, an openly gay law professor at Rutgers Law School.

“If, in fact, marriage, as a public and legal institution,” Gallagher testified, “is oriented towards protecting children by increasing the likelihood they have a mother and father, then same-sex couples do not fit, and conversely, if same-sex couples fit the definition of marriage then marriage really is no longer about responsible procreation in the sense.”

Whelan argued that the administration had purposefully sabotaged its defense of the law.

“As I document in detail in my testimony, I think one would have to be very naïve to think that it's anything than a stealth strategy of step by step by step, the administration is doing whatever it can to promote same-sex marriage and to induce the courts to adopt that approach.”

“The department has only been pretending to defend DOMA while it has been, in fact, actively sabotaging it,” he added. (Video of several portions of the hearing is embedded in the right hand panel of this page.)