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2chambers
Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 03/25/2011

What’s the future of the Defense of Marriage Act?

Updated, 12:30 p.m.

Democrats in the House and Senate last week introduced legislation aimed at repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The path ahead for the legislation appears uncertain in both chambers, at least for the near future. Republicans hold the majority in the House, and a Senate Judiciary Committee aide said Thursday that there is no set calendar for the legislation right now and that the committee’s chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), is “taking things one step at a time” and consulting with other members on the path forward.

Still, the introduction of the measures marks the latest turn in a 112th Congress that has devoted a surprising amount of time to social issues even as lawmakers have emphasized the need to focus on the economy, job-creation and the federal deficit.

In contrast to some of the other legislation on social issues that has come up during the 112th Congress, the renewed legislative focus on DOMA was brought about not by lawmakers, but by the White House. President Obama last month instructed the Justice Department to no longer defend the law, a move that spurred House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to convene a meeting of the House’s five-member Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group in order to direct the House general counsel to initiate a legal defense of the law.

Democrats’ position in the DOMA debate was strengthened last week by a Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that 53 percent of Americans now say same-sex marriage should be legal, the first time that a majority in the Post poll has said so. Proponents of DOMA took issue with the wording of the poll, which they argued skewed the results.

Supporters of repealing DOMA have also argued that last year’s vote to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a sign that momentum is on their side. On the Senate side, eight Republicans joined 57 members of the Democratic caucus last year in backing repeal of DADT, a higher number than many expected. In the final House vote on DADT last year, 15 Republicans voted for repeal, while 15 Democrats opposed it.

(One of the lead Senate Republicans in the repeal effort, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), was feted by the Human Rights Campaign Thursday night at a fundraiser in New York.)

The Senate DOMA repeal legislation, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), currently has 19 Democratic co-sponsors. A spokesperson for Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is among those spearheading the DOMA repeal effort on the House side, said that House Democrats’ plan is now to add the measure’s 108 co-sponsors and make a more “coordinated effort to get those Republicans who we know agree that DOMA thwarts states rights to come on board publicly.” Neither measure has attracted any Republican co-sponsors to date.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Friday that he would oppose efforts by Democrats to repeal DOMA.

“Currently, 45 states define marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” Smith said. “The Defense of Marriage Act rightly protects these states from having to recognize same-sex marriages that are performed in other states. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in response to demands from the American people. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I will oppose efforts to repeal this important law.”

Meanwhile, freshman Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-Mo.) has introduced a measure in the House condemning Obama’s decision on DOMA and demanding that the Department of Justice defend the law “in all instances.” The measure has 98 co-sponsors.

“President Obama’s decision to order his Justice Department to stop defending DOMA is not a surprise but it is disappointing,” Hartzler said in a statement earlier this month. “Once we start going down the road of selectively enforcing our laws we are headed for chaos. President Obama took an oath to uphold the laws of the United States and he is breaking his word to the American people.”

By  |  12:30 PM ET, 03/25/2011

 
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