A new challenge has arisen to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 federal marriage law that gives states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and prevents federal recognition of gay marriage.
Introduced by Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York and Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis) and Jared Polis (D-Col), the legislation came Tuesday under the moniker of the “Respect for Marriage Act.”
H.R. 3567, which already has 91 co-sponsors, would mandate the acceptance of same-sex marriages under the law nationwide so long as the marriage was legally performed in one of the four states with active same-sex marriage laws.
While the bill would not compel individual states or local jurisdictions to conduct same sex marriages, it would guarantee equal status under federal law for all legally married same-sex couples.
Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Oh) signaled a coming opposition to the legislation Tuesday. “Family is the most important institution in our culture and marriage is the cornerstone of that institution, so what they’re doing is totally wrong, and we’re gonna fight it.”
Though Nadler optimistically celebrated the introduction of the bill by saying “Today we celebrate the first step to overturning the defense of marriage act and sending that ugly law into the history books where it belongs,” the bill lacks the sponsorship of influential openly-gay Congressman Barney Franks, D-Mass., who has expressed doubts that the bill could have any success in this congress.
"It’s not anything that’s achievable in the near term,” said Frank to the Washington Blade last week. “I think getting ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act], a repeal of [the military ban on openly gay troops] ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and full domestic partner benefits for federal employees will take up all of what we can do and maybe more in this Congress.”
The bill’s chances of passage are further clouded by the questionable support of President Obama, whose justice department recently argued in favor of DOMA. Candidate Obama did declare support for a hypothetical repeal, but his well-noted lack of follow through on LGBT issues has led many to question the amount of support this bill can expect from a White House embroiled in difficult battles elsewhere.
Congressmen like Jordan have questioned why, when there are several contentious and vital legislative battles underway, proponents would choose now to revisit a stable social issue.
“Here’s what’s funny to me,” Jordan said. “They always bring up the argument that whenever we try to do something… such as protecting life, protecting family, protecting those key institutions, they always say, well we’ve got more important things to do. [Now] we’ve got an economy with 14% unemployment in some states, real concerns about health care, real concerns about energy policy, and they’re bringing up this?”
Same sex marriages are currently legally performed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont. In Maine, same-sex marriages are legal but will not be performed until a measure on the ballot for November is passed. Same-sex marriages will begin in New Hampshire on January 1, 2010.