The Senate Judiciary Committee next month will hold a mark-up and vote on a bill repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The announcement by committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sets up a collision course for the Senate and House over the issue of gay marriage. House Republicans this month tripled the amount they authorized to spend on legal fees to defend the 1996 DOMA to $1.5 million, a response which is a direct reaction driven at President Barack Obama’s decision to stop fighting lawsuits seeking to end it. “The march for equality continues, and now is the time to ensure equality for gay and lesbian Americans who are lawfully married,” said Leahy, of the 29 co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act. The bill “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.”
In effect, this bill would allow the U.S. federal government to provide benefits to couples in same-sex marriages, which would include recognizing unions between couples of the same sex for immigration purposes. It would not, however, compel individual states to recognize same-sex unions. The Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearing on efforts to repeal DOMA shortly after Obama announced his support for the Respect for Marriage Act. The legislation, which is authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal), is expected to be approved by the committee given that all 10 Democratic members are backing it. The passing of the Respect for Marriage Act, and the repeal of its predecessor, would mark a significant triumph in our country’s long track record for social equality.