Sponsors of the Respect for Marriage
Act said Tuesday the bill has exceeded 100 co-sponsors.
Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY),
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced the bill that
would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at a
Washington outdoor press conference in September.
DOMA was signed into law by President
Bill Clinton 13 years ago. The law defines marriage as a
heterosexual union for federal agencies and allows states to ignore
gay marriages performed in other states. Under DOMA legally married
gay and lesbian couples cannot access federal benefits, including
Social Security and pensions.
“Only weeks following the
introduction of the Respect for Marriage Act, we have the support of
over 100 members of Congress for this historic bill,” Nadler said
in a statement.
“This progress demonstrates in no
uncertain terms that support for our legislation is growing every day
and that there is broad support from across the country to repeal
DOMA now. Gay and lesbian Americans simply must not be the target of
discrimination under federal law,” he added.
DOMA has been under intense fire since
President Obama's Department of Justice defended the law in a
California lawsuit that aimed to overturn the statute. That suit has
since been dismissed on a technicality, but petitioners have vowed to
refile their challenge. In filing their final brief, administration
lawyers greatly reined in the anti-gay sentiment of their arguments.
Other challenges to the law continue as
well, including two suits filed in Massachusetts and one in
California. California petitioners are hoping a federal judge will
agree that Proposition 8, the voter-approved referendum that bans gay
marriage in the state, is unconstitutional, while Massachusetts
petitioners are only challenging DOMA's provisions that block gay and
lesbian couples from accessing federal benefits. All three suits are
likely to reach the Supreme Court.
In his most recent address to the gay
community, Obama modestly broached the subject.
“I believe strongly in stopping laws
designed to take rights away and passing laws that extend equal
rights to gay couples,” Obama told 3,000 gay activists at an
October 10 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) fundraiser. “I've required
all agencies in the federal government to extend as many federal
benefits as possible to LGBT families as the current law allows. And
I've called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage
Act and to pass the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act.”
While the bill is gaining traction, the
nation's most powerful openly gay elected official, Massachusetts
Representative Barney Frank, says passage this year is unlikely.
“It's not anything that's achievable
in the near term,” Frank told gay weekly The
“I think getting [the Employment
Non-Discrimination Act], a repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' and
full domestic partner benefits for federal employees will take up all
of what we can do and maybe more in this Congress.”
The bill does not repeal DOMA entirely,
states would still be allowed to ignore gay marriages performed
outside their borders, but it would recognize marriages even in
states where they have been deemed illegal, granting couples 1100
federal benefits in states that disapprove of gay marriage.
“For the purposes of any Federal law
in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be
considered married if that individual's marriage is valid in the
State where marriage was entered into …,” the bill says.
Frank disagreed with the provision,
saying it would “stir up unnecessary opposition.”
“I don't think it's a good idea to
rekindle that debate when there's no chance of passage in the near
term,” Frank said.