November 3, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Senate committee holds over DOMA repeal vote

Sen. Patrick Leahy (left) with Sens. Herb Kohl and Dianne Feinstein (right) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Senate panel held over a previously scheduled debate and vote on legislation to repeal Defense of Marriage after members opposed to the anti-gay law read statements calling for its demise.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said during the markup that action was holding over on the bill, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, under request from Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

Committee rules allow for any member of the panel to hold bills over when they first appear on the executive committee agenda, so putting action on legislation or other business isn’t unusual. The panel has held over action on every bill that has come before it this year.

Leahy said the Respect for Marriage Act would be “voted on one way or the other next week” during the committee’s next executive session and he hopes the legislation will pass.

Observers are expecting amendments on the DOMA repeal legislation to come up when the committee takes up the bill next week, although the nature of the amendments remains uncertain. Opponents of DOMA repeal may attempt to offer “poison pill” amendments to derail the Respect for Marriage Act from moving forward.

Grassley, who opposes DOMA repeal, said during the markup he’s working on the amendments to the bill and members should expect to vote on them next week, although he didn’t identify any particular amendments he would offer.

“I’ve circulated amendments to the bill, and am working on more, so member should be prepared to consider amendments to the bill at the next committee’s executive session meeting,” Grassley said.

According to the Courage Campaign’s Prop 8 Trial Tracker, Grassley intends to offer an amendment that would strike Section 2 of the Respect for Marriage Act, which enables federal benefits to flow to married same-sex couples no matter the state in which they reside. Grassley’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to confirm that such an amendment is in the works.

Democratic senators who oppose DOMA spoke out in favor repeal of the 1996 anti-gay law, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, before the session adjourned.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the legislation, noted she was one of 14 senators who voted against DOMA in 1996 and said she remains opposed to the law for the same reasons.

“DOMA, in my view, is clearly discriminatory,” Feinstein said. “So, in my view, DOMA is a pernicious denial to one class of legally married couples of more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits that are provided to all other members of that class — legally married couples.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) invoked the work of 19th century French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote after visiting the United States, “The one thing that distinguishes America from any other country is the inexorable march to equality.”

“That march continues,” Schumer said. “It still burns brightly in the American breast that we should treat everybody equally. The repeal of DOMA will be a large step in that direction. It will happen. It will happen, and let’s just hope it happens sooner rather than later.”

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

3 Comments
  • Robert Brooks, Ph. D.

    A Senate Committee that has held over every bill that comes before it all year is not doing its work. It is being obstructive for partisan political motives only. Time to change politicians.

  • I’m opposed to even addressing gay marriage until a legitimate ENDA is law.

    Having said that, I’m even more opposed to Chuckie Grassley having any input (beyond the casting of his individual votes) on anything in a Democratic-controlled Senate. Was any Dem allowed to unilaterally delay DOMA or the FMA when those were forced through under Republican control of the Senate?

  • The vast majority of Dems in congress supported DOMA in 1996.

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