Democrats on Wednesday pushed a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in both houses of Congress.
The Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996 during the Clinton administration, defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman – stipulating that states did not need to follow same-sex legislation passed in other states.
DOMA opponents have since then complained that the law disqualifies gay couples from receiving the same federal spousal benefits granted to heterosexual married couples.
They maintain that homosexual unions are equivalent to that of heterosexual marriages.
"The time has come for the federal government to recognize that every American family deserves all of the legal protections afforded to couples who are married under state law," said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who introduced the bill alongside Senators Diane Feinstein (California) and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York).
A similar legislation for the House was brought forward by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (New York) and John Conyers (Michigan), along with four openly gay House members Jared Polis (Colorado), David Cicilline (Rhode Island), Barney Frank (Massachusetts) and Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin).
Sponsored solely by Democrats, the proposed Senate bill has 19 sponsors. A similar bill in the House of Representatives has 105 sponsors.
Now, with the bills introduced in Congress, all three branches of the federal government are involved in repealing DOMA.
In late February, President Barack Obama ordered the Justice Department to no longer defend DOMA. Obama said "after careful consideration" he will "no longer assert its constitutionality in court."
The department had previously defended DOMA, but it said that two recent lawsuits show that the law must be subjected to a more rigorous standard. Obama said that DOMA fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.
Pro-family groups have criticized Obama for neglecting his duty to defend federal law.
"Marriage as a male-female union has been easily defended in court and overwhelmingly supported by the American people. There is absolutely no excuse beyond pandering to his liberal political base for President Obama's decision to abandon his constitutional role to defend a federal law enacted overwhelmingly by Congress," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins last month.
The DOMA repeal bills will face a tough crowd in the GOP-dominant House, whose Republican leaders have stated that they are determined to defend the marriage law.