Congressional Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation [text] to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text], the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." Companion bills were introduced in both chambers of Congress in an effort to capitalize on growing public support for same-sex marriage. Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY), John Conyers (D-MI) and over 100 cosponsors are leading the effort in the House, and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and about twenty cosponsors are promoting the bill in the Senate [official sites]. Five states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages. Currently DOMA allows other states to ignore those recognized same-sex marriages, and prevents same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits available to married couples. The proposed legislation would repeal DOMA and formally amend United States Code definition of marriage:
For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual's marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State.Rep. Nadler first introduced the repeal legislation, cited as the Respect for Marriage Act, in the House in 2009, but the measure did not receive a vote in committee or on the floor. This is the first time such legislation has been brought in the Senate.
The Congressional action follows February's announcement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] that it will no longer defend the constitutionality [JURIST report] of Section 3 of DOMA, which restricts the federal definition of marriage to heterosexual couples, in court cases challenging the provision. The announcement came just one month after the DOJ filed a brief [JURIST report] with the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] defending the constitutionality of DOMA. The appeal followed a July ruling [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which found that Section 3 of DOMA violates both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment and State Sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment [text]. Earlier this month House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] announced that he is launching a legal advisory group to defend [JURIST report] DOMA, stating "[t]he constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts, not by the president unilaterally, and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution."