Democrats push Defense of Marriage Act repeal

gay marriage

Democrats introduced legislation in both houses of Congress Wednesday to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law barring the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages.

"The time has come for the federal government to recognize that every American family deserves all of the legal protections afforded to couples who are married under state law," said Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.

Added New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: "Every loving, committed couple deserves the basic human right to get married, start a family, and have access to all the same rights and privileges that my husband and I enjoy."

The proposed legislation, The Respect for Marriage Act, would repeal DOMA, allowing married same-sex couples to receive federal marriage benefits. Under current law, married same-sex couples cannot file federal income taxes jointly, receive spousal benefits under Social Security, or take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act due to illness, among other benefits afforded straight married couples.

The Senate bill, introduced by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has 19 co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats. A matching bill - also sponsored solely by Democrats - was introduced in the House.

At an event to announce the bill today, Feinstein introduced a couple that she said was one of more than 18,000 legally married same-sex couples in her state that are being denied equal rights.

President Obama's Justice Department announced last month it would no longer defend DOMA in court. The president has long opposed DOMA, but until last month his Justice Department defended it against court challenges.

The GOP-led House has vowed to step in to defend DOMA against challenges, however, a sign that the legislation introduced Wednesday would seem to face long odds for passage.

The gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, in coordination with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, released a poll Tuesday finding that 51 percent of voters oppose DOMA, while 34 percent favor the law.

"The debate over DOMA isn't about whether you favor marriage equality, it's about whether the government can pick and choose which marriages they like, and which they don't," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement.

Five states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex marriage.