House Bill Introduced to Repeal Defense of Marriage Act

Members of Congress introduced legislation in the House of Representatives Tuesday that aims to repeal the 13-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal purposes and ensures that states are not forced to recognize alternate definitions.

"The full repeal of DOMA is long overdue," said Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act and chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

"It was a so-called 'defense' against a hypothetical harm," he added Tuesday after introducing the legislation alongside six other members of Congress. "This made it easy for our opponents to demonize gay and lesbian families."

The Respect for Marriage Act, which so far has a total of 91 co-sponsors, was reportedly introduced following months of planning and organizing among the nation's leading LGBT and civil rights stakeholders and legislators.

Supporters say the legislation would repeal the "discriminatory" DOMA but would not tell any state how married couples must be treated for purposes of state law. Furthermore, they claim, the legislation would not obligate any person, church, city or state to celebrate or license a marriage of two people of the same sex.

"It would merely restore the approach historically taken by states of determining, under principles of comity and Full Faith and Credit, whether to honor a couple's marriage for purposes of state law," a spokesman for Nadler explained.

Conservatives, however, argue otherwise.

Brian S. Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, noted that the DOMA repeal bill has failed to garner the support of influential gay lawmaker Barney Frank (D-Mass.) because it is overreaching.

According to Frank's spokesman, Harry Gural, the openly gay Congressman believes the legislation would have little chance of passage because it would allow same-sex couples to take their partnership benefits across state lines.

Conservatives similarly see the new legislation as part of a wave of "radical efforts to force same-sex marriage in every state," noting that DOMA is the only federal law protecting the marriage statutes of 44 states. Currently, six states have passed laws legalizing same-sex marriages – Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In New York and Washington, D.C., same-sex marriages from other states or foreign countries are recognized but they are not performed.

"The citizens of 39 states have worked hard to pass legislation and constitutional amendments to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman," commented Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America (CWA). "DOMA ensures the integrity of our constitutional system and the will of Americans. DOMA reflects the reality that marriage provides unique benefits to individuals, children, and society which cannot be replicated by any other living arrangement."

Though the Respect for Marriage Act has now been introduced, a spokesman for lead sponsor Nadler acknowledged that repealing DOMA was not a priority for movement anytime soon.

Ilan Kayatsky told The Associated Press the repeal was being introduced now primarily "to gain support and momentum and educate people."

In the past year, Americans' views on same-sex marriage have essentially stayed the same, with a majority of 57 percent opposed to granting such marriages legal status and 40 percent in favor of doing so, according to a May 2009 Gallup poll. Though Gallup noted that support for legal same-sex marriage is significantly higher now than when it first asked about it in 1996, in recent years support has appeared to stall, peaking at 46 percent in 2007.

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