November 2, 2011 at 5:03 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
DOMA repeal unlikely to find a single GOP vote in committee

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act is unlikely to win support from a single Republican during an upcoming committee vote on the bill.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin debate leading to a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the 1996 law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Although the committee action on the legislation is set begin on Thursday, the panel will likely hold off on consideration of the bill for another week. Committee rules allow for any member of the panel to hold bills over when they first appear on the executive committee agenda.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the DOMA repeal bill, told the Washington Blade in a brief exchange on Capitol Hill that she expects the committee to postpone action on the Respect for Marriage Act after the panel convenes.

“Everybody has the right to put it over for one week, so it’ll be put over,” Feinstein said.

Members of the committee may read opening statements on Thursday regarding their views on DOMA, but action will likely be postponed.

All 10 Democrats on the 18-member panel are supporters of DOMA repeal, so the legislation should have no trouble moving out of committee. But LGBT advocates are dubious about finding support from any Republicans on the panel.

Of the eight Republican members of the panel, six received a score of “0” in the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent scorecard of federal legislators. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a score of 13 out of 100. Another committee member, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), is a newcomer and wasn’t rated during the 111th Congress.

Rick Jacobs, chair of the Courage Campaign, said he isn’t expecting a single Republican vote during the committee consideration of the Respect for Marriage Act.

“I don’t think they will,” Jacobs said. “They should. We welcome them. … This should be non-partisan because it simply restores the status quo ante. For people who are states’ rights advocates, join the party.”

The Courage Campaign, a progressive grassroots organization, has been working to build the number of Senate co-sponsors for the Respect for Marriage Act by circulating petitions among state residents and sending them to senators. The group is currently focused on adding Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) as supporters.

The Blade placed calls to each of the eight Republican members of the committee to inquire about how the senators would vote when the Respect for Marriage Act comes before them. Only the office of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the committee, responded immediately.

Beth Levine, a Grassley spokesperson, said the senator “has been very clear how he feels about this bill” and “supports the Defense of Marriage Act.”

During the Senate committee hearing on DOMA in July, Grassley articulated his opposition to lifting DOMA from the books in his opening statement.

“A real bill to restore marriage would restore marriage as it has been known: as between one man and one woman,” Grassley said. “That is the view of marriage that I support. This bill would undermine, not restore marriage, by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.”

The Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t compel states to recognize same-sex marriages, but would lift the provision preventing federal benefits and responsibilities from flowing to existing married gay couples throughout the country.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization is communicating with GOP members of the committee in conjunction with Freedom to Marry, but added he couldn’t name any Republican who would vote “yes.”

“We’re still working and communicating with them,” Cooper said. “But I’ll leave it at that.”

In addition to voting against the legislation, Republican opponents of the Respect for Marriage Act may offer amendments to force senators to vote on uncomfortable issues or alter the legislation so supporters would no longer back it.

Such amendments are often called “poison pill” amendments because they serve no purpose other than to disrupt the measure at hand.

Feinstein acknowledged that amendments attempting to derail passage of the Respect for Marriage Act could come up, but expressed skepticism that any would move forward.

“That’s certainly a possibility,” Feinstein said. “I don’t know whether it’s a probability or not — there’ll certainly be amendments. Whether they would be poison pill — I would be doubtful of that. But that’s just me.”

LGBT advocates say they’re awaiting Republican amendments aimed at disrupting passage of the Respect for Marriage Act to come up in committee, but don’t want to speculate on the nature of the measures.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, said Republicans may want to score points with their conservative base by offering disruptive amendments.

“The interesting thing will be to see to degree to which committee Republicans will want to offer amendments or otherwise make political hay out of this issue,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Even if the bill is advanced out of committee, supporters of the legislation will face a stiff challenge in passing the bill on the Senate floor. In addition to Feinstein, the legislation has 30 co-sponsors — all Democrats — far short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on whether the Democratic leadership would bring the bill up for a vote during the 112th Congress.

Feinstein said she hasn’t engaged in talks with Reid on bringing the Respect for Marriage Act to the Senate floor. Asked whether she had conversations with him about the bill, Feinstein replied, “No. Not at this time. Let’s get it out of committee first.”

The California lawmaker said she doesn’t “necessarily” expect a floor vote on the bill before this Congress adjourns at the end of next year, saying “We’d like to win it.”

Cole-Schwartz said the full Senate “remains a challenge” in passing DOMA repeal, but the committee markup would be effective in building momentum for the legislation.

“There’s a lot more work to be done to gain additional co-sponsors, to educate members on the issue,” he said. “It’s important that we get Republican co-sponsors on the bill before we’re really going to be in a position to win 60 votes on the floor.”

Passage in the U.S. House would be even more difficult. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated in July he wouldn’t bring the legislation to a vote on the House floor, telling the Blade that DOMA is “the law of the land, and should remain the law of the land.”

An amendment affirming DOMA sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) passed in July on the House floor by a vote of 248-175.

Despite these challenges, Jacobs said the effort is still worthy and he’s “not going to give up on the idea” the bill could pass this Congress.

“I think it’s really obvious and simple: people didn’t think that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ would move as it did,” Jacobs said. “As a community,  we have to continue to organize with our friends and our allies, and we have this great opportunity with this markup now, and if we keep going we’ll win.”


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

  • Charles

    In the end, I believe that it will be the courts that inevitably defeat DOMA. Even “The Godfather” Pat Roberson of the 700 “CLUB” (not a church) stated to republicans to not be so vocal about being to the “right” until elected.

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  • Diana

    I do not think that DOMA will be repealed! Most Americans beleive that marriage is between a man and a woman. The majority of Americans do not want to get AIDS by having same sex marriage. That is another reason that DOMA should not be repealed. Most Americans want to be free from AIDS! It is a stupid decision to want to get AIDS from same sex marriage. Therefore the politicans are proving just how stupid they really are by wanting to repeal DOMA! The Repulicans are being smarter than the Democrats by keeping DOMA!

    • Jav

      Do you think you get Aids from gay marriage? How ignorant you are.Poor woman.Did you know straight people are more likely to get Aids than gays? Read more. Ignorance is killing this world.

    • deb

      Seriuosly?1 You should not be commenting her if you feel that AIDS is limited to homosexuals!

  • Thomas

    Wow Diana – you are truly ignorant… AIDS does not come from being gay or being in a same sex marriage. And it is true AIDS is more common with heterosexual. Also, it’s sad because if an aids infected heterosexual couple bear a child he/she too will more than like carry the virus too…

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