January 6, 2015 at 7:22 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Respect for Marriage Act reintroduced

Jerrold Nadler, New York, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has reintroduced the Respect for Marriage Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On the first day of the 114th Congress, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reintroduced legislation aimed at fully repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and ensuring parity in spousal benefits for married same-sex couples.

“We must finish the job begun by the Supreme Court by passing the Respect for Marriage Act,” Nadler said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has ruled that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, but Congress still must repeal the law in its entirety.”

Joining Nadler and Feinstein in introducing the Respect for Marriage Act on Tuesday were 77 original co-sponsors in the House and 41 other senators in the Senate. In either chamber, the only Republican to co-sponsor the bill is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

In the Senate, the bill has two new co-sponsors: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and newly seated Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

First introduced in 2009, the Respect for Marriage Act was initially billed as a means to repeal Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing the same-sex marriages for the purposes of federal benefits.

The aspect of the bill was no longer needed in states where same-sex marriage is legal after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against DOMA last year. But with the Obama administration still reading U.S. code as blocking spousal Social Security and veterans benefits to same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states, the legislation still has purpose.

In addition to repealing DOMA in its entirely, a “certainty provision” in the legislation would ensure the flow of federal benefits of marriage to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they live.

“Repeal of DOMA is long overdue,” Nadler said. “That is why we are reintroducing the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals DOMA in its entirety and sends DOMA into the history books where it belongs. The bill provides a uniform rule for recognizing couples under federal law, ensuring that lawfully married couples will be recognized under federal law no matter where they live and guaranteeing that all families can plan for a future of mutual obligation and support with confidence.”

Feinstein, who has earlier said the Obama administration on its volition should extend Social Security and veterans benefits to married same-sex couples regardless of state of residence, also emphasized the importance of the bill.

“Congress must repeal DOMA and ensure that married, same-sex couples are treated equally under federal law, which is what this bill will do,” Feinstein said. “Only when this bill is passed will we be able to guarantee the federal rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage for all loving couples. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bill.”

LGBT advocates heaped praise on Nadler and Feinstein for reintroducing the legislation, saying the time has come federal benefits to flow to married same-sex couples throughout the country.

David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s government affairs director, said securing spousal Social Security and veterans benefits is an important reason to repeal DOMA in its entirety.

“From social security benefits to veterans benefits, DOMA continues to harm families across the country,” Stacy said. “Every legally married couple — no matter where they live — should have access to the full federal benefits and protections they deserve. It’s far past time for DOMA to be completely repealed once and for all.”

Jo Deutsch, federal director of Freedom to Marry, said passage of the bill will end discrimination in marriage at the federal level for same-sex couples.

“The U.S. Supreme Court took a crucial step in dismantling the so-called Defense of Marriage Act last year, and the administration has implemented the ruling forcefully, but the job is not yet complete,” Deutsch said. “The Respect for Marriage Act seeks to fix major gaps in federal protections for married couples, especially in social security and veterans’ benefits. We must keep working to end every vestige of federal marriage discrimination and send this mean-spirited law to the dustbin of history.”

Ashley Broadway, president of the American Military Partner Association, emphasized the need for the bill to ensure the flow of veterans benefits to same-sex military couples.

“Military and veteran families continue to suffer harm caused by section two of DOMA,” Braodway said. “The Department of Veterans Affairs still does not fully recognize the same-sex marriages of service members and veterans living in non-marriage equality states. All service members, veterans, and their families deserve full and equal access to their earned veterans’ benefits, no matter what state they live in.”

A White House official had a more cautious approach to the legislation, but recalled President Obama’s support for extending federal benefits to married same-sex couples.

“Although we have not reviewed this specific piece of legislation, the President has supported previous versions of the Respect for Marriage Act,” the official said. “He believes that loving and committed married same sex couples should have access to federal benefits and rights regardless of where they live.”

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

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