Bill to Repeal DOMA Faces Uphill Battle in Republican Congress

Marchers at the Capital Pride parade in Washington, D.C., 2011.
Marchers at the Capital Pride parade in Washington, D.C., 2011. | Photo:Tim Evanson/Flickr/Creative Commons

Scores of U.S. senators and representatives have signaled their support for a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, the federal law that permits states to ignore same-sex marriages from other states.

But in a Republican-controlled Congress, it's far from certain that this proposal -- now making its fourth appearance -- will finally pass. The Respect for Marriage Act has come before the last three Congresses, each time gaining a bigger coalition of supporters in the House and Senate.

The new version was introduced on Tuesday by 42 senators, including both California Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and 79 congressmen, several from California, such as Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

In 2013 U.S. Supreme Court struck down a section of DOMA that stated that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid. That language remains on the books, however, and requires an act of Congress to be removed. If the language isn't removed, a Supreme Court with a different mindset could reverse its stance from Windsor v. United States, the ruling that overturned part of DOMA.

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The new law would permit couples married in the 36 states that permit same sex marriage to receive full social security and veterans benefits afforded to any married couple.

"The Respect for Marriage Act accomplishes two major goals," said Adam Romero, federal legal director of the Williams Institute, a policy think tank at UCLA. "First it removes an explicitly discriminatory statute from federal code. Second, it will help ensure equal treatment for same sex couples at the federal level."

Though he hopes the new bill is enacted, "I will be surprised if the Republican leadership permits this bill to come to full vote despite the fact that there's widespread bipartisan support for the Respect for Marriage Act."

Passing the new bill would also provide clarity to state employees tasked with enforcing and implementing gay marriage laws, and relieve same-sex couples of enduring litigation fueled by unclear laws.

"Only when this bill is passed will we be able to guarantee the federal rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage for all loving couples," Sen. Feinstein said in a press release.

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