Senate Committee Takes Aim at Defense of Marriage Act
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to mark-up the “Respect for Marriage Act” – the bill that would repeal the “Defense of Marriage Act” – on November 10, thus paving the way for consideration of the bill by the full Senate.
For those who do not know, a “markup” is a legislative process in which a congressional committee – in this case the Judiciary Committee – reads the bill and considers amendments to it. The committee then votes to send the legislation back to the full Senate, where it is is then placed on the legislative calendar to be debated and voted on by the whole chamber. In other words, the committee markup is just one in a series of steps culminating in the final passage of a bill.
Thursday will be a historic occasion: never before has a congressional committee debated on repealing DOMA, the discriminatory law that prevents gay couples from receiving over 1,000 federal benefits that straight couples receive. This summer, the Senate Judiciary Committee broke ground by holding the first hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act.
It is quite clear that the Judiciary Committee will pass DOMA repeal: every single Democrat on the committee is a co-sponsor of the bill, and since Democrats have a majority in the Senate (and, thus, a majority in every committee as well), there is no doubt that the committee will send the bill to the floor.
This, of course, has not stopped Senate Republicans from using Senate rules to delay the markup for as long as possible. The markup was actually supposed to happen this week, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, forced the committee to “hold over” the markup for another week for further study. This is a common tactic used to delay bills senators disagree with, so while it is not particularly surprising that Grassley resorted to this desperate measure, it is further proof that Republicans will do all it takes to maintain the institutionalized discrimination that is DOMA.
DOMA’s fate is far less certain in the full Senate. While Democrats do have a majority, only 30 of them are co-sponsors, and bills need 60 votes to pass in the Senate due to rules allowing the minority party (Senate Republicans) to filibuster bills they do not like; the Senate can invoke cloture, thus ending the filibuster, but need 60 votes in order to do so.
Not only that, but with Congress set to begin consideration of several must-pass appropriations bills and the Super Committee deadline for recommending at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction measures drawing near, the docket is looking very full for the foreseeable future.
And even if the Senate did manage to find time to consider DOMA repeal, and even if it did manage to pass the bill, there is no way that the House of Representatives – which is controlled by Republicans – would ever pass the bill. The Respect for Marriage Act is DOA in the lower chamber.
Nobody, then, questions that DOMA is here to stay for at least another year. But the fact remains that DOMA’s days are numbered. If Democrats take back control of the House and keep control of the Senate in 2012 (which some are saying is possible), passage of the Respect for Marriage Act would become a very real possibility.
Public opinion also shows support for DOMA by the wayside, according to recent polls: 51 percent oppose the law, while only 34 percent support it. If Senators really want to represent public interests, they will vote for the Respect for Marriage Act so that gay couples can receive the same recognition and benefits that their straight counterparts do.
There is other good news on the DOMA front, as well: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and over 130 other House Democrats filed this week a supportive amicus brief in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA, which is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (a federal district court already ruled part of the law unconstitutional). House Republicans, in the absence of the Department of Justice, are defending DOMA at taxpayer expense.
As UB previously reported, 70 corporations, including Nike, Google, Microsoft, and Starbucks, have also filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit, showing that supporting gay rights is just good business.
While DOMA is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, the cards are stacking up – more and more each day – against the discriminatory law. Little by little, lawmakers, businesses, and the public are lining up behind the Respect for Marriage Act, and it is only a matter of time before gay couples are treated equally by the federal government.
Photo courtesy of PBS.org.