Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate introduced legislation today that would repeal a ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage after House Republicans said they would defend the 1996 law in court.
The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” President Barack Obama’s administration says the law unconstitutionally discriminates against gays and lesbians.
Obama’s decision to stop defending the law against court challenges to its constitutionality prompted Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, to authorize the House’s top lawyer earlier this month to take over that task.
“Rather than prolonging litigation in the courts, Congress should act to repeal this ugly law,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who is sponsoring the House bill, said in a statement.
Five states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages. The U.S. law bars same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits when eligibility is determined by marital status, such as Social Security survivors’ payments or enrollment of a spouse for government retiree health-care benefits.
The Senate measure was introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California.
Repeal legislation was first introduced in the House in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, though it never received a vote in committee or on the floor. Such a measure hasn’t previously been introduced in the Senate, said Judiciary Committee spokeswoman Erica Chabot.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who was speaker when the measure was introduced two years ago, is among 108 co-sponsors of the new measure.
At least 10 lawsuits are challenging the constitutionality of the law. Following a Justice Department review, Attorney General Eric Holder recommended that the agency no longer defend the law against those suits. Obama accepted the recommendation last month.
“Years of experience with same-sex marriage in several states has conclusively refuted the arguments” that the law was needed to protect family values, Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement.
“It stands now only as a symbol of bigotry,” said Frank, who is gay.
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