[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] on Thursday voted to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST archive], marking the first time a Congressional group has voted to repeal the law banning same-sex marriage. The vote was split along party lines, with 10 Democrats voting in favor of the legislation and eight Republicans voting in opposition. Committee Chair Patrick Leahy emphasized that the Respect for Marriage Act (ROMA) [text] would guarantee equal treatment for all lawful marriages and extend federal benefits to same-sex couples even if they move into states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. ROMA has also garnered support [Washington Blade report] from President Barack Obama [official profile] who has also decried DOMA as discriminatory, pledging he would continue to fight for its repeal [JURIST report]. In an attempt by Democrats to send a message to their political base [AP report], the bill may proceed to the Senate floor, but is likely to fail because it has significantly fewer co-sponsors than is needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. It is also unlikely that the repeal legislation will pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives [official website]. Courage Campaign [advocacy website] chair and founder Rick Jacobs thanked the Judiciary Committee [press release] for their vote. Meanwhile, national polls suggest that a slight majority of Americans favor allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Members of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group defended DOMA in a filing [text, PDF] in October in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website]. The group contends that DOMA “easily passes the rational basis test,” which would apply because “sexual orientation is not a suspect or quasi-suspect class under the traditional factors used to determine such classes” including immutability and political powerlessness. Even though the Obama administration has stopped defending the constitutionality of DOMA [JURIST report], benefits continue to be denied. Last month, a disabled Navy veteran filed a notice of appeal [JURIST report] with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims [official website] for denying her partner a share of her disability benefits under DOMA. Carmen Cardona filed for veterans’ spousal benefits last year but was denied. The Department of Veterans Affairs [official website] reportedly told her she could not receive benefits because her spouse was a woman, which is not a recognized marriage under federal law. In February, congressional Democrats introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which was intended to repeal DOMA [JURIST report].