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Senate Panel Approves DOMA Repeal

A bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee today on a 10-8 party-line vote, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republican opposing.

The DOMA law, enacted in the 1990s during the Clinton administration and which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, isn’t immediately threatened, however. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) conceded there are no immediate plans for the repeal bill to be given consideration on the Senate floor. There is little support for the legislation in the House among GOP leaders that control the floor schedule.

Today’s Judiciary Committee debate over the Respect for Marriage Act was sharp but civil, as Democrats urged passage to pave the way for married same-sex couples in states where gay marriage is legal to receive the same federal benefits as married heterosexual couples. Republicans argued that approval would force all states to recognize same-sex married couples, as long as they were married in a state where gay marriage is legal.

“I support this bill because it takes the federal government out of the business of defining marriage,” Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said during committee testimony just before the vote.

“Since DOMA did not take anything away from same-sex couples, repealing it would not restore anything,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) countered.

At one point, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) asserted that Democrats have pursued the repeal of DOMA primarily for political reasons — to satisfy their gay and lesbian supporters, backing up his claim by noting that the bill appears unlikely to be put on the Senate’s legislative calendar anytime soon.

Cornyn said the vote would be politically problematic for Democrats running for re-election in 2012, and for that reason, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has no plans to bring the legislation up for a vote in the 112th Congress. “We all know that the Majority Leader has zero intention of bringing this bill to a vote in the U.S. Senate this year or next,” he said.

Durbin flatly rejected Cornyn’s charge that Democrats were playing politics, saying their support for the Respect for Marriage Act was a matter of equality and civil rights.

However, Durbin did not dispute the Texan’s contention that the legislation is unlikely to receive a vote this year or next. The Majority Whip blamed the likelihood of a Republican filibuster for the unclear legislative path of the DOMA repeal. Durbin, who voted in favor of DOMA when it originally passed, said he now regrets that vote.

“I voted for DOMA. I believe that I was wrong,” the Illinois Democrat said. “My views on the subject have changed.”

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