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November 18, 2011

Senate panel okays DOMA repeal, but its future is dim

Washington, D.C.—The Senate Judiciary Committee on November 8 approved the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill to repeal the “defense of marriage act” barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The party-line vote sends the measure to the full Senate. But, even if it gets a vote there and passes, the odds are slim it would survive in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chief Senate sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act said that she is committed to presenting the bill until it passes, which she acknowledged will be a long fight. She said that she currently does not have the votes to get it out of the Senate.

“”Virtually any advance in civil rights or any kind of rights has been carried by the Democratic Party. It’s just a fact,” she said, according to Politico. “So, we’ll just march on. We’ll continue this.”

“And if I have to reintroduce it next session, I’ll reintroduce it. Session after that, I’ll reintroduce it,” she concluded.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, along with 14 other mayors from across the country, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging repeal of DOMA, calling it “a stain on our common values,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A second letter, signed by the governors of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and California, as well as the mayor of Washington, D.C., was sent to the committee as well, noting that DOMA ignored legal marriages in their states, and it “disrespects our states’ decisions to treat all of our citizens equally.”

 In addition to the legislative challenge to DOMA, which was passed in 1996, there are also court challenges pending. In a case in federal court in Massachusetts, the Obama administration refused to defend DOMA, backed up by the Justice Department. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder opined that one of the provisions of the law violates the Constitution.

Rep. John Boehner of Cincinnati, the Speaker of the House, stepped in and is using House of Representative’s powers to defend DOMA in the case, at an increasing expense to taxpayers. Because of this, 133 Democrats in the House of Representatives, including 14 who originally voted for DOMA, filed an amicus brief with the court, arguing that the section defining marriage as between one man and one woman “lacks a rational relationship to any legitimate federal purpose and accordingly is unconstitutional.”

“Many members believe that Section 3 of DOMA violates the Constitution and should be struck down,” the brief continues. Section 3 prohibits federal recognition of a same-sex marriage for any purpose, such as immigration, Social Security, or veterans’ benefits.

“Congress passed DOMA without examining its impact on any of the thousand-plus federal laws that take marital status into account or hearing from child welfare or family law experts,” it notes. “Nor did Congress pause to examine why the federal government traditionally has respected state marriages for purposes of federal law despite the non-trivial differences in state marriage laws over this nation’s history before rupturing this longstanding federalist practice.”

The case in which they filed the brief will consolidate two other cases before the First Circuit Court of Appeals, following a federal court decision that Section 3 is unconstitutional.

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