Metro Weekly

Members of Congress renew efforts to repeal DOMA

Jerry Nadler - Credit: U.S. House of Representatives

Jerry Nadler – Credit: U.S. House of Representatives

Legislation that would repeal the remaining sections of the Defense of Marriage Act was reintroduced in the House and Senate on the first day of the 114th Congress.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.) reintroduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House of Representatives Monday with 77 additional cosponsors. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reintroduced the companion bill in the Senate with the support of 42 additional senators. Democratic leadership in both houses have backed the bill. 

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, defining marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes, in June 2013, the Obama administration has implemented the ruling broadly across the federal government. However, the Justice Department has determined that certain benefits — including Social Security and veterans’ benefits — cannot be extended to married same-sex couples living in states that do not recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

“The vast majority of Americans live in states where same-sex couples can marry and public support for marriage equality is growing stronger by the day,” Nadler said in a statement. “Repeal of DOMA is long overdue. That is why we are reintroducing the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals DOMA in its entirety and sends DOMA into the history books where it belongs. The bill provides a uniform rule for recognizing couples under federal law, ensuring that lawfully married couples will be recognized under federal law no matter where they live and guaranteeing that all families can plan for a future of mutual obligation and support with confidence.”

As noted in a June memo by Attorney General Eric Holder to President Barack Obama announcing the completion of the implementation of the Windsor decision, the administration’s legal interpretation of the “place of domicile” rule prohibits the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs from adopting a place of celebration rule for certain programs and must instead confer benefits based on the laws of the state where a married same-sex couple lives. Due to those restrictions, both Holder and the White House have called on Congress to pass legislation, including the Respect for Marriage Act, that would correct areas of federal law that continue to prevent the extension of benefits.

“Congress must repeal DOMA and ensure that married, same-sex couples are treated equally under federal law, which is what this bill will do,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Only when this bill is passed will we be able to guarantee the federal rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage for all loving couples. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bill.” 

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The reintroduction of the bill was praised by LGBT-rights organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and American Military Partner Association. 

“From social security benefits to veterans benefits, DOMA continues to harm families across the country,” said David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director, in a statement. “Every legally married couple – no matter where they live – should have access to the full federal benefits and protections they deserve. It’s far past time for DOMA to be completely repealed once and for all.”

According to Ashley Broadway, president of the American Military Partner Association, Section 2 of DOMA  allowing non-marriage-equality states to refuse to recognize legal marriages of same-sex couples continues to harm military families. “The Department of Veterans Affairs still does not fully recognize the same-sex marriages of service members and veterans living in non-marriage equality states. All service members, veterans, and their families deserve full and equal access to their earned veterans’ benefits, no matter what state they live in,” Broadway said in a statement.

The reintroduction of the bill comes as Republicans assume control of both houses of Congress, making it increasingly unlikely the bill will see movement. At the time of its reintroduction, Ros-Lehtinen was the only Republican cosponsor in either chamber.

“Gay and lesbian couples deserve a Congress that will afford them the same rights as straight couples,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a statement. “I hope Senate Republicans will work with Democrats to pass this important bill and repeal DOMA.”

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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.