July 12, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Senate DOMA repeal hearing set for July 20

Sen. Patrick Leahy (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced that an anticipated hearing on legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act has been set for July 20.

According to a notice, the hearing on DOMA repeal legislation, also known as the Respect for Marriage Act, will take place July 20 at 10 a.m. in Room 226 the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Witnesses who will testify at the hearing, which would be the first-ever in Congress against, DOMA will be announced in the coming days.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is co-sponsor of the legislation that would repeal DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. In the Senate, the legislation is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), while Rep. Jerrold Nalder is the lead on House version of the legislation.

In a statement, Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, praised Leahy for holding the hearing at a time when New York recently approved a law legalizing same-sex marriage.

“Until DOMA’s enactment, the federal government had always honored marriages celebrated in the states,” Solomon said. “It’s time for Congress to end this gay exception and allow legally married same-sex couples access to the tools and security available to all other couples to build a life together and protect their families.”

Should Leahy decide to report out the DOMA repeal legislation during the hearing, he would have the votes to do so. The legislation has the necessary 10 votes in committee to move to the Senate floor.

All but one of the Democrats on the committee — Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — are co-sponsors of the legislation. Klobuchar has said she’d support for the legislation should it come up for a vote.

Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of the Courage Campaign, said the first congressional hearing against DOMA marks a significant milestone for the LGBT community.

“In this particular calendar year and maybe since 2008, the word ‘historic’ has become cliche, but it’s true every single time,” Jacobs said. “I cannot underscore sufficiently how historic it is that the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate is holding a hearing on repealing DOMA.”

Courage Campaign has been mounting a grassroots efforts to encourage more senators to sign on in support of DOMA repeal. This week, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) announced they would sign on as co-sponsors, bringing the total number of co-sponsors to 28. Klobuchar’s support raises that number to 29.

In a statement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the DOMA repeal bill, also praised Leahy for his decision to hold a hearing on DOMA repeal.

“Marriage is the true foundation for strong families,” she said. “Every loving, committed couple deserves the basic human right to get married, start a family, and have access to all the same rights and privileges that my husband and I enjoy. No politician should stand in the way of this fact.”

Gillibrand continued, “If Democrats and Republicans can come together to do what’s right in New York, I know we can do the same in Congress to do what’s right for all of America. Now is the time to act on the federal level.”

Jacobs said he hopes the personal stories from witnesses at the hearing will provide greater education on what the restrictions that DOMA imposes on same-sex couples and convince more senators beyond the 29 who have already expressed support to announce they will back the repeal bill.

“We hope what comes out of the hearing is a clear understanding by the American people of what the Defense of Marriage Act is, and the harm that it causes, and it’s unique historical nature,” Jacobs said. “It’s the only piece of legislation in American history that put the federal government in a position of interfering with the right of states to define marriage.”

One additional senator that Jacobs is eyeing as a potential new co-sponsor for the bill is Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and who’s facing re-election in a heavily Democratic state in 2012.

“I think that he should be looking very, very carefully at this,” Jacobs said. “He’s sitting frankly in a aberrational seat there and he’s going to run again in Massachusetts. People in Massachusetts favor equality.”

Brown’s office didn’t immediately respond to Washington Blade’s request to comment on what the senator’s position on the Respect for Marriage Act is.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

2 Comments
  • Repeal DOMA? You bet! I’m a lesbian disabled Veteran, and I’m married to another woman. I tried to claim my wife as my dependent but my claim was denied because of DOMA. Why should the federal government determine who gets my final pay when I die? If I die because of my service connected disabilities, I want my wife taken care of. She’s been taking care of me and I want to care for her after I’m gone. Repeal DOMA the same way the government got rid of DADT!!!

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