Democrats Seek Gay Rights Protections After Court Ruling

Democratic lawmakers said they’ll seek further protections for gay couples after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal law denying them benefits, as congressional Republicans signaled that further battles on marriage equality would shift to the states.

Democrats in both chambers said they will introduce a measure today that would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, after the high court said a core provision violated the Constitution’s equal protection provision. The court also cleared the way for same-sex weddings to resume in California.

While Democrats heralded the ruling as a victory for the gay-rights movement, Republicans said the 5-4 Supreme Court decision gutted a law that passed both chambers with overwhelming majorities and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

“Now we have an effective oligarchy of five who decide the fundamental issues of our time,” said Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican.

Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat who said he is raising three children with his male partner of 21 years, became emotional in commenting about today’s decision.

His children, he told reporters, “don’t have to grow up wondering why our family is less than somebody else’s.”

Topic Avoided

Immediately after the court’s ruling, House Republicans held their weekly press conference and avoided the topic of same-sex marriage and took no questions from reporters.

Later, House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement calling on states to protect a traditional view of marriage and defended a decision to intervene in the case by hiring Washington-based law firm Bancroft PLLC to defend the law.

“While I am obviously disappointed in the ruling, it is always critical that we protect our system of checks and balances,” Boehner said. “A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference that Republicans “wasted” $2.3 million in taxpayer money on the case, and she heralded a ruling she said showed the court “bent the arch of justice” toward the principle of equal protection under the law.

“This is an extraordinary day for American values,” she said.

13 Jurisdictions

There were more than 130,000 married, gay couples in the U.S., according to estimates from the 2010 Census. Same-sex couples have the right to marry in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said he and Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, will advance a proposal ending the rest of DOMA. He said doing that would ensure that a couple married in one of the 13 jurisdictions that allow gay marriage could move to another state and still have their marriage legally recognized.

Marriage equality for gay couples has gained acceptance with senators of both parties.

This month Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska became the third Republican senator to announce support of gay marriage, joining Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio.

House Antipathy

In April, a majority of Senate Democrats supported marriage rights for same-sex couples for the first time, as three majority lawmakers -- Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida and Joe Donnelly of Indiana -- reversed their earlier opposition.

Antipathy to gay marriage remains strong in the Republican-led House. Republican Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said today he’ll introduce legislation to amend the Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

About a dozen House Republicans held a news conference to express anger over the court’s decision, which they said overturns the will of elected officeholders. The Senate passed DOMA on a 85-14 vote, while it cleared the House on a 342-67 tally.

“Congress was well within its rights to define marriage as it has been recognized for thousands of years” for the purposes of decided who gets federal benefits, said Representative Joe Pitts, a Tennessee Republican.

No Fight

Still, their party leaders gave no indication of an appetite for any further legislation, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joining Boehner in a call for states to take the lead.

“The House defended this law, which passed with a large bipartisan coalition and was signed by President Clinton, because courts should determine the constitutionality of laws, not presidents,” Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement. “I’m disappointed in this decision, and the marriage debate will continue in the states.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he plans a vote in the full Senate soon on legislation barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Too many Americans still face discrimination at their workplaces today because of their sexual orientation,” he said in a statement. “Every American deserves to be free from job discrimination.”

As the Senate today moved closer to a final vote on legislation revising U.S. immigration law, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced he’s no longer seeking a vote on an amendment that would grant married same-sex couples equal treatment with heterosexual couples under the measure.

“With the Supreme Court decision today, it appears that the anti-discrimination principle that I have long advocated will apply to immigration law,” the Vermont Democrat said on the Senate floor.

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