Senate Judiciary Committee Takes Action to Repeal DOMA

November 10, 2011

by Jeremy Leaming

While it is unlikely to be replicated in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, lawmakers on the Senate side took a step toward repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, the federal law that discriminates against lesbians and gay men.

The Senate Judiciary Committee votied in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA. Before today’s vote, Democrats rallied around marriage equality, while several Republicans decried the Committee's action as political posturing, and all voted against the repeal bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who introduced the measure earlier this year, knocked DOMA, calling it “wrong when it passed in 1996 and it is wrong now. There are 131,000 legally married couples in this country who are denied more than 1,100 federal rights and protections because of this discriminatory law. I don’t know long the battle for full equality will take, but we are on the cusp of change, and today’s historic vote in the committee is an important step forward.”

Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blasted DOMA for denying equal treatment to gay couples. “The Federal Government should not deny recognition and protection to the thousands of Americans who are lawfully married under their state law. We must repeal DOMA to ensure the freedom and equality of all our citizens.”

Sens. Charles Schumer, Richard Durbin, Al Franken, Christopher Coons and Blumenthal, also weighed in on the side of marriage equality. See some of their comments here.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn, chided the Committee for moving the bill to the Senate floor where it would not be voted on “this year or next,” as The Huffington Post reports. According to Cornyn, today’s action was all about political maneuvering for next year’s general election.

The Religious Right lobbying group, the Family Research Council, lamented the Committee’s vote, saying it “disrespects Americans across the country who want to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman …,” and “require Americans in every state to subsidize homosexual couples by using tax dollars to provide them with federal benefits.”

While Congress may not be able to repeal DOMA, the federal courts may decide its fate. Several lawsuits are challenging the constitutionality of the law. University of Chicago Law School Professor Geoffrey Stone wrote earlier this year, in piece for The Huffington Post, about DOMA’s constitutional vulnerability.

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