September 23, 2011 at 10:33 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Ros-Lehtinen becomes first GOP co-sponsor of DOMA repeal

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) (Official U.S. Congressional Portrait)

A Republican U.S. House member known for her pro-LGBT leanings has become the first GOP co-sponsor of legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

On Friday morning, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) announced in a statement provided by National Log Cabin Republicans that she has signed on in support to the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the 1996 anti-gay law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“I’m pleased to join the Log Cabin Republicans in our fight for marriage equality,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I co-sponsored the repeal of DOMA because I firmly believe that equality is enshrined in our constitution and in our great democracy.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s support means the DOMA repeal bill, which in the House was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), now has 125 co-sponsors. The House legislation now has more co-sponsors than it had in the 111th Congress when Democrats held a majority in the chamber.

In a statement, Nadler said he welcomes Ros-Lehtinen as a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act “with great joy.”

“And her support reminds us that the march to repeal the discriminatory DOMA is not a partisan issue,” Nadler said. “Just as New York showed the nation this summer in its bipartisan embrace of marriage equality, the drive to end DOMA is — and must be — a collective, nonpartisan effort that unites Americans behind a simple push for equality.”

Other pro-LGBT bills to which Ros-Lehtinen has signed on as a co-sponsor include the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. In May 2010, Ros-Lehtinen was among five Republicans who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal even before the Pentagon report on the issue was published.

R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin’s executive director, praised Ros-Lehtinen for extending her existing support for the LGBT community by signing on as a co-sponsor to the Respect for Marriage Act.

“Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has long been on the frontlines in fighting for human dignity at home and abroad,” Cooper said. “As a founding member of the House LGBT Equality Caucus she has been a reliable ally and leader time and again on legislation to secure freedom and fairness for all Americans.”

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said Ros-Lehtinen’s support for DOMA repeal demonstrates that both Democrats and Republicans can support same-sex marriage.

“Freedom to Marry will continue to make the case to Republican and Democratic members of Congress that it’s time to return the federal government to its proper role of honoring all marriages legal in the states — without a gay exception,” Wolfson said.

In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) co-sponsors a companion version of the Respect for Marriage Act. President Obama endorsed the legislation in July.

Partick Egan, a gay political science professor at New York University, said Ros-Lehtinen’s co-sponsorship of DOMA repeal “makes sense” because her district, which has been trending Democratic in recent years, saw a win for Obama in 2008 and includes gay enclaves in South Beach and Key West.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she were eventually joined by Republicans such as Florida colleague Mario Diaz-Balart and California GOP Reps. Mary Bono Mack and David Drier, all of whom have gay-friendly voting records,” Egan said.

Egan added Republicans have been breaking ranks on LGBT issues recently as public support grows for LGBT rights. He identified Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who voted in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal last year, as another GOP Republican who could support DOMA repeal “without much backlash from voters in his deep blue state.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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