White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday announced that President Obama supports legislation pending before Congress that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
“I can tell you that the president has long called for legislative repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people families, friends and neighbors,” Carney said. “He is proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act introduced by Sen. Feinstein and Congressman Nadler, which would take DOMA off the books once and for all. This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian the same rights and legal protections as straight couples.”
President Obama has previously said he supports legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, but has yet to come out in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, which is the specific measure pending before Congress that would repeal the law.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold the first-ever congressional hearing on repeal of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
LGBT rights advocates praised the endorsement from the White House on Wednesday as a milestone that would lead to legislative repeal of the 1996 anti-gay law.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, was among those thanking President Obama for announcing support for the Respect for Marriage Act.
“He has repeatedly expressed his desire to see the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act repealed and his Justice Department has taken the historic step of ending its defense of that odious law in court,” Solmonese said. “By supporting this legislation, the President continues to demonstrate his commitment to ending federal discrimination against tens of thousands of lawfully married same-sex couples.”
Rick Jacobs, co-founder and chair of the Courage Campaign, a progressive grassroots organization working to build support for DOMA repeal legislation, also hailed the endorsement.
“We are delighted that today, on the eve of a historic Senate Judiciary Committeehearing, President Obama endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act,” Jacobs said. “It is rare that a White House endorses a bill that has yet to pass first in either the Senate or the House. President Obama’s decision to do so underscores the urgency with which the Defense of Marriage Act must be repealed. His support makes clear to all Americans that the Defense of Marriage Act has no place in our society.”
Jacobs said he received from a call on Tuesday morning from Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, indicating that Carney would announce at the upcoming news conference Obama’s support for the legislation.
Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, also praised the Obama for supporting the Respect for Marriage Act while decrying the discrimination that DOMA imposes on same-sex couples.
“DOMA is a flagrantly discriminatory law that serves no good, rational, or useful purpose,” Stachelberg said. “It denies rights to gay couples and their families simply because of their sexual orientation. Passage of the RMA would represent a huge leap forward on the path toward full equality for same-sex couples in the United States. The administration’s support of the RMA is important and greatly welcomed.”
Praise for the endorsement also came from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who set the hearing on DOMA repeal and is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
“The president understands that this civil rights issue affects thousands of American families,” Leahy said. “In these difficult economic times, we should do all we can to remove barriers to fairness and security. I have scheduled a hearing to examine the legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and welcome this announcement on the eve of that hearing.”
Also during the news conference, Carney said he has no updates for when certification of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would occur. Late last month during a Pride reception at the White House, Obama said certification would happen in a course “weeks, not months,” but a more specific time for certification has yet to be announced.
Asked whether Obama has spoken to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Carney replied, “I don’t know that the president has had those conversations either with Secretary Panetta, or his predecessor, or with Adm. Mullen. What the president said remains the case and our expectation, but I don’t have any more information for you on that.”
Under the law signed in December, certification will only take place after 60 days pass following certification from the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.