The SenateJudiciary Committee took the unprecedented step Thursday of voting to repeal a federal law that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and allows states to disregard same-sex unions from other states.
However, the Respect for Marriage Act may have reached the end of its consideration in this session of Congress: Senate Republicans expressed doubt that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, would dare bring up such a controversial bill before an election, especially with only 31 supporters.
Mr. Reid knows he would “face a revolution in his own caucus” if he scheduled a vote on this bill, said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
“Let me make it clear. If this is called to the floor and only the 30 co-sponsors vote for it, it’s worth the effort,” he said.
Regardless of its immediate fate, Thursday’s 10-8 party-line vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), was seen as a milestone victory in the quest to have gay marriage legalized throughout America.
DOMA discriminates against more than 131,000 legally married same-sex couples in six states and the District of Columbia by denying them federal benefits, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill.
Seven governors, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and nine mayors, including D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, sent a letter to the Senate panel urging it to repeal DOMA.
However, the committee’s eight Republicans pointed out that Mrs. Feinstein’s bill would not pass in either the Senate or the House, and, if enacted, would ignite countless legal battles over gay marriage in the states.
If the bill passes and DOMA is repealed, “states that recognize only traditional marriages will be required to honor same-sex marriages for purposes of federal law,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and Judiciary’s ranking member.
Thursday’s discussion evoked emotional responses from several senators.
In 1996, DOMA passed with large margins of support from both parties, including still-serving senators, and was signed by President Clinton. Forty states have since passed their own DOMAs and the vast majority of the American people continue to support traditional marriage, said Mr. Cornyn.
So what’s the purpose of passing an unpopular bill that has no chance of becoming law in this Congress, Mr. Cornyn asked rhetorically. The answer, he said, appears to be a “transparent appeal to a special-interest group that our Democratic friends believe is a key to their electoral victory in 2012.”
“I voted for DOMA. I believe that I was wrong,” replied Mr. Durbin, tapping his fingers on the table for emphasis. Upholding marriage equality is the right thing to do now, he added. “I don’t care if it wins me votes or loses me votes … . I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history on this issue.”