Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Landmark DOMA Repeal Bill

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011) – The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today approved legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a critical step forward in restoring the rights of all lawfully married couples.

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal DOMA, which was enacted in 1996.  Under the current law, legally married, same-sex couples cannot take advantage of federal protections available to every other married couple.  Specifically, lawfully married same-sex couples cannot:

  • File joint federal income taxes and claim certain deductions;
  • Receive spousal benefits under Social Security;
  • Take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act when a loved one falls seriously ill;
  • Obtain the protections of the estate tax when one spouse passes and wants to leave his or her possessions to another.

The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in March by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and is cosponsored by 30 other Senators.  All 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee support the legislation. 

Senator Feinstein said, “DOMA was wrong when it passed in 1996 and it is wrong now. There are 131,000 legally married, same-sex couples in this country who are denied more than 1,100 federal rights and protections because of this discriminatory law.  I don’t know how long the battle for full equality will take, but we are on the cusp of change, and today’s historic vote in the committee is an important step forward.”

“In the 15 years since the passage of DOMA, I have listened to Vermonters and understand why these highly personal freedoms and protections are so important and so desperately needed,” said Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.  “The Federal Government should not deny recognition and protection to the thousands of Americans who are lawfully married under their state law.  We must repeal DOMA to ensure the freedom and equality of all of our citizens.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it is no longer a question of if  DOMA will be repealed, but when,” said Senator Chuck Schumer. “One of the defining qualities of America is our inexorable drive towards equality, and the repeal of DOMA would mark a major step in granting marriage equality to New Yorkers on a federal level, providing spousal benefits, the ability to file taxes as a couple, and more.  To put it simply, this is the right thing to do and we shouldn’t wait any longer to do it.”

“I support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because I believe our country should value and respect all loving, committed couples who want to pledge a lifetime of partnership and fidelity to one another -- regardless of their sexual orientation,” Senator Richard Durbin said. “I regret my vote in favor of the law 15 years ago, but I have learned from what a former Congressman from Illinois said when he was once challenged for changing his position on a matter. That Illinois congressman was Abraham Lincoln, and he said 'I would rather be right some of the time than wrong all of the time.' This repeal is an important step towards justice and I'm proud to support it.”

“For far too long, same-sex couples in Minnesota and all over the country have lived without the basic legal rights afforded to opposite-sex married couples,” said Senator Al Franken. “The Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory and unconstitutional, and today's vote was an important step toward finally repealing it. I was proud to stand up for same-sex couples all over the country and vote for this bill today, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed once and for all.”

“This is a truly important day in our nation's journey toward equality,”  Senator Christopher Coons said. “We’ve made tremendous progress and I am proud of the committee’s vote today. As our country changes and as more Americans join the cause of equality, the Senate is changing with it. Equality is never a special interest - it is a fundamental interest of this country. Whether the Respect for Marriage Act moves to the floor in this Congress or the next, we will eventually repeal DOMA. We must redouble our efforts to show that the love and commitment shared by same-sex couples is of equal value as that shared by heterosexual couples.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “This vote marks a dramatic and historic step toward simple justice - repealing a discriminatory and unconstitutional law. DOMA denies equal rights to lawfully married couples and ignores the practical impact on countless loving, committed people in my home state of Connecticut. We must continue to end the discrimination against same-sex couples and their families, and fight for full rights for all couples.”

The House companion bill to the Respect for Marriage Act (H.R.1116), introduced by Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), has bipartisan support, including 130 cosponsors.

The Obama administration has announced the President’s support for the Respect for Marriage Act.

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