Rep. Pete Stark addresses constituents Thursday night at the Fremont Senior Center.

By Steven Tavares

Rep. Pete Stark said Thursday night he supports the Department of Justice’s decision this week to not defend the controversial Defense of Marriage (DOMA) Act in court. At a town hall in Fremont, Stark said he may file an amicus brief against any court case involving DOMA in Congress.

President Obama and the Department of Justice surprised many last Wednesday by releasing a six-page memo announcing the government would no longer defend the law limiting marriage between a man and a woman. In effect, the administration believes the law is unconstitutional. Regardless of the merits of the president’s decision, some have wondered why he would jump head-long into a likely ferocious bipartisan social debate in a time of economic uncertainty. Possible 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and other Republicans have already raised the question of impeachment over the Obama’s intention to not uphold the federal law.

Stark has rarely stepped back from a fight and said he would do his part in defending the president’s decision by filing an amicus brief, or friend of the court petition, in support of repealing DOMA. “I would defend it as a human right,” Stark told a resident. “I don’t the federal government should have anything to do with marriage.”

Stark, who is the only known atheist in Congress, laid out the legal aspects of marriage along with those along religious lines. “On the religious aspect,” said Stark. “I don’t care about that.”

Residents were particularly keen on hearing Stark’s take on a number pressing national issues circulating in Washington, among them, the possibility of a government shutdown and rising gas prices from uncertainty in the Middle East.

If a budget deal between Democrats and Republicans is not reached soon, the federal government could fall into sleep mode as early as March 4. “I hope this is all a game chicken,” said Stark, who expressed disbelief Republicans are using a famously unsuccessful tactic from 1995 to shut the government down. Many believe the decision directly led to President Bill Clinton’s re-election the next year.

Stark says the local fallout of a shutdown will likely mean late social security checks and other services offered by the government slowing to a standstill. “Politically speaking, I can’t understand any politician going back to their district and saying to them, ‘well, we fixed you’,” said Stark.

As revolution creeps across the Arab world from Tunisia to Egypt to Cairo, the price of democracy is being paid increasingly at the pump for many of Stark’s constituents. In response to two questions regarding opening the federal petroleum reserves, Stark said he sees no reason to tap those reserves. In many East Bay communities, gasoline prices are quickly spiking towards $4-per-gallon. He also voiced support for billionaire natural gas magnate T. Boone Pickens and his desire to wean the country off foreign oil in favor of cleaner alternatives. “I would rather buy natural gas from him,” said Stark, who acknowledged Pickens’s extensive stake in the alternative, “than buy oil from overseas.”