The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act next month.
The vote will be the first step in repealing the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Gay rights supporters have pushed Democratic lawmakers to repeal the law in their fight for equality for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation.
“Next month I will call up the Respect for Marriage Act for debate and a vote in the Judiciary Committee,” committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement on Friday. “The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents thousands of American families from being protected by laws that help secure other American families. This is part of the nation’s continuing fight for civil rights for all Americans.”
After the announcement Democratic lawmakers and gay rights supporters praised the decision.
“If Democrats and Republicans can come together to do what’s right in New York, I know we can do the same in Congress to do what’s right for all of America,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of the bill’s biggest supporters, wrote in a tweet. “Now is the time to act on the federal level.”
“This markup is an incredible step toward ending federal marriage discrimination that causes real harm to American families,” Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said. “Chairman Leahy and Senator [Dianne] Feinstein have been leaders in this fight, and we applaud them for continuing the momentum against this unjust law.”
While it is expected to make it out of committee it is unclear if it will get through Congress. The Respect for Marriage Act has 30 Senate co-sponsors and has a record bipartisan group of 129 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. Still, House Republicans have contracted with an outside law firm to defend DOMA after the Obama administration announced in May it would no longer defend the 1996 law because the Justice Department determined it to be unconstitutional. The Republicans’ defense of the law is costing taxpayers as much as $1.5 million – triple the amount they are authorized to spend on legal fees.
However, Democrats could get a political bounce in their attempt to repeal the law. A poll the Human Rights Campaign conducted in March after the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in Congress showed 51 percent of voters supported repealing DOMA while 34 percent favored keeping it – it was the third poll to show the majority of Americans supported marriage equality. The Associated Press and the National Constitution Center also released a poll as recently as September that showed 53 percent of those surveyed thought the government should give legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same sex compared to 44 percent who were opposed.
If the Respect for Marriage Act were to make it through Congress, President Barack Obama would be expected to sign it into law. He has not officially come out in support of the bill, but he has said on multiple occasions he thought DOMA should be repealed.
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