Democrats introduce bill to repeal anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act

Respect for Marriage Act would guarantee federal marriage benefits for same-sex spouses

By Luke Brinker
January 7, 2015 8:49PM (UTC)
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(AP Photo/Mathew Sumner)

Reprising an effort the party began six years ago, congressional Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and ensure that same-sex spouses enjoyed all the federal benefits that accrue from marriage, regardless of whether they live in states that allow gay nuptials.

The revived push to repeal DOMA, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996, comes a year and a half after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down one of its key provisions, overriding the law's ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages. "We must finish the job begun by the Supreme Court by passing the Respect for Marriage Act," New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the bill's sponsor, said Tuesday. "The bill provides a uniform rule for recognizing couples under federal law, ensuring that lawfully married couples will be recognized under federal law no matter where they live and guaranteeing that all families can plan for a future of mutual obligation and support with confidence."


Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is the measure's sponsor in the upper chamber. As the Huffington Post's Jennifer Bendery notes, the bill has attracted only one Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. That doesn't portend well for the bill's prospects, given that Republicans now control both chambers in the 114th Congress. Moreover, Bendery points out, Democrats have failed in attempts to pass the Respect for Marriage Act since 2009, when Democrats held both the House and Senate; the bill has moved no further than the Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed it in 2011.

Still, the measure allows Democrats to make a forceful statement in support of marriage equality as Republicans increasingly struggle to reconcile their near-unanimous opposition to same-sex marriage with public opinion polls that show majority support for it. Likely GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush, who opposes marriage equality, offered a glimpse this week at the tack many establishment-oriented Republicans may take heading into the 2016 elections. After a federal judge allowed marriage equality to proceed in Florida, where Bush was governor from 1999 to 2007, he issued a statement that acknowledged  “couples making lifetime commitments to each other," even as he called on marriage equality advocates to honor the "religious liberty" of  "those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament." As Bush's statement attests, many Republicans realize that the battle over marriage equality is all but lost to social conservatives; the next battlefront concerns whether people should be allowed to cite their religiously-motivated bigotry to deny services to LGBT people. Most Republicans answer that question with an emphatic "yes."

Luke Brinker

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