The lead sponsor of legislation that
would repeal the federal ban on gay marriage says he expects the bill
will remain on the back burner for the next year.
In a recent interview with gay weekly
Agenda, New York Representative Jerrold Nadler said the bill
is not ready for passage.
Nadler introduced the Respect for
Marriage Act in September. The bill quickly rounded up 100
co-sponsors in its first 30 days, including two of Congress' three
openly gay members – U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and
Jared Polis, D-Colorado.
But the effort to repeal the Defense of
Marriage Act (DOMA) has fallen victim to being a low priority, Nadler
“The Respect for Marriage Act is a
bill that we can't pass right now; we know we can't pass it right
now,” he said. “Some of the people we're dealing with are very
busy with a number of other things. There's not a sense of urgency,
the sense that this bill has to have a Senate sponsor right now
because it's going to pass right now, because it's not, so we're
President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into
law 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.
Opponents have also attacked the law in
the courts. Lawsuits range in scope from aiming to declare the law
unconstitutional to carving out federal concessions for gay couples
married in one of the five states where the institution is
recognized. Representative Baldwin has also introduced legislation
that would create an exception to the law by extending benefits such
as health care to the same-sex partners of federal employees. Her
bill is quickly wending its way through the House.
While Nadler's bill would only repeal
the law's ban on federal recognition of gay marriages – leaving
intact the ability of states to decide for themselves on the issue –
the idea remains too “avant garde,” Nadler said.
The measure also lacks the support of
the nation's most powerful openly gay elected official, Massachusetts
Representative Barney Frank. Frank has said debate on the issue
would “stir up unnecessary opposition.” Unnecessary because
there's little hope of passage in the near term, he added.
And a companion Senate version of the
bill has yet to even find a sponsor. Nadler expects that to change
next year, saying Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin,
would “possibly” take up the cause in the Senate.
Despite the steep incline, Nadler is
committed to repeal: “Even if you didn't have a lot of practical
effects, which obviously it does have, it's wrong to keep such things
on the books.”
“The honor of the country demands we
repeal it,” he added.