Legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act is enjoying record support as the year comes to a close — and an LGBT group backing the bill is optimistic that strength will grow further as additional lawmakers who support marriage equality take their seats at the start of the next Congress.
Upon introduction in the U.S. House early last year, the bill — known as the Respect for Marriage Act — had 109 sponsors, but the total number of has now grown to 159. That’s short of the 218 needed for a majority vote needed for passage, but still a record number.
Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, said that number of sponsors was achieved after setting a goal upon the bill’s introduction of finding 50 more sponsors and undertaking a coordinated effort with additional groups to win more support.
“Freedom to Marry set out a goal of adding 50 more sponsors this Congress, and have had dozens and dozens of lobby visits with members and their staff,” Solomon said. “For lobbying members of the Congressional Black Caucus, we partnered up with the National Black Justice Coalition and the ACLU, and for GOP members, we worked with Log Cabin and our GOP lobbyist, Kathryn Lehman.”
The most recent addition to the list of co-sponsors is Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who signed as a co-sponsor to the bill on Nov. 16 after Election Day. In a statement to the Washington Blade, Waters said she decided to co-sponsor the bill to provide benefits to married same-sex couples that currently aren’t afforded to them because of DOMA.
“I was very pleased to support the Respect for Marriage Act, critical legislation that would ensure same-sex couples are afforded the same federal benefits as other married couples within states that recognize their unions,” Waters said. “Under current law, same-sex married couples are denied important protections such as Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights, and family and medical leave.”
Waters’ support also builds on the number of co-sponsors to the bill who are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Her support means nine additional caucus members have signed on this year alone, and 34 out of 42 total caucus members are sponsors of the bill.
Of the 159 sponsors to the bill, only one is a Republican. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the only congressional Republican to support marriage equality, signed on as a co-sponsor last year.
Solomon said the bill’s strength is the largely the result of “tremendous growth” in Democratic support for the bill. Upon introduction, the bill enjoyed support from 55 percent of the House Democratic caucus, but the 112th Congress closes with 80 percent of House Democrats counted as co-sponsors.
“It demonstrates that, for Democrats, supporting the freedom to marry and repeal of DOMA has become nearly the default position, the only acceptable position to take,” Solomon said.
Solomon said he expects the already high number of sponsors to be topped in the next Congress because of the 49 Democrats who were elected to the U.S. House for the first time on Election Day, 46 were explicit supporters of marriage equality.
In addition to newly elected openly LGB members of Congress — Sean Patrick Maloney, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan and Mark Takano — this list includes Patrick Murphy of Florida, who unseated Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts, who’ll take the seat currently occupied by gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
According to the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry, the newly elected House Democrats won’t don’t support marriage equality are William Enyart of Illinois, Filemon Vela of Texas and Pete Gallego of Texas.
“All together, this demonstrates tremendous momentum at the federal level for eliminating this discriminatory law that hurts loving and committed couples and their families, and more generally tremendous momentum for the cause across the board,” Solomon said.
The strong end to the Respect for Marriage Act in the 112th Congress comes at same time that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider on Friday taking up litigation that would overturn DOMA through the judicial process. The court is widely expected to take up at least one DOMA case and a ruling on the anti-gay law is expected by the end of June.
But passage of the legislation may still be necessary. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chief sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, earlier told the Washington Blade passage of his bill is still needed it contains a “certainly clause” that would allow federal benefits to flow to married same-sex couples even if they relocate to states where it’s not recognized. It’s unclear hether a court ruling against DOMA would achieve the same goal.
Waters noted the incoming House Democratic caucus will be “majority-minority” — it’ll have a never-before-seen representation of women, ethnic minorities and LGBT members — and said that diversity makes it incumbent upon the caucus “to recognize and respect the personal dignity of all our colleagues and their families.”
“Today, with the support of President Obama, and a steady shift in public attitudes trending in support of marriage equality, I believe that it is only a matter of time before we see a complete end to DOMA – a discriminatory law that violates fundamental principles of liberty and equal protection guaranteed under the Constitution,” Waters said.
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article, citing a list provided by Freedom to Marry, incorrectly stated the position on same-sex marriage held by William Enyart, Filemon Vela, Don Payne and Bill Foster. Additionally, an initial posting gave an incorrect title for Marc Solomon. The Blade regrets the error. The updated version also removes language speculating the bill would have fewer co-sponsors upon reintroduction.