Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a vote for a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that defines marriage for federal agencies and the military as a heterosexual union.

The committee will begin debate on the bill next Thursday, Leahy announced on Tuesday.

“The march for equality continues, and now is the time to ensure equality for gay and lesbian Americans who are lawfully married,” Leahy said in announcing consideration of the bill in the committee. “This is part of the nation's continuing fight for civil rights for all Americans.”

While the panel's Democratic majority backs the bill – making approval a near forgone conclusion – Republican members are uniformly opposed to the measure. The issue is a non-starter in the GOP-controlled House, where its speaker, John Boehner, is defending the law in court.

(Related: John Boehner criticizes Obama's gay marriage decision.)

Still, passage out of the committee will represent a symbolic victory for gay marriage advocates.

The legislation was first introduced in 2009 by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler. California Senator Dianne Feinstein is the bill's primary sponsor in the Senate.