Senate Democrats who back gay marriage have decided now is the time to repeal a federal law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
The Democrats may satisfy their gay marriage supporters, but the bill won’t get very far.
The repeal could be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but the next stop — the full Senate — could be a long way off. The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says she doesn’t have the votes for Senate passage, and the bill would have no chance in a House controlled by Republican conservatives.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., defended the timing of the panel’s likely vote on the Defense of Marriage Act. “It is never the wrong time to right an injustice,” he said.
Feinstein’s bill has 31 Senate sponsors, all Democrats. Most Republicans fiercely oppose the repeal.
“Traditional marriage between a man and a woman has been the foundation of our society for 6,000 years,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel. “The Defense of Marriage Act protects this sacred institution, which I believe in, and attempts to dismantle this law are likely to be met with a great deal of resistance.”
Lacking enough votes in the House or Senate, Grassley said the Democratic effort in the Judiciary Committee “makes it no more than a cynical political gesture to the Democrats’ base.”
It is likely that the issue will be debated right up to the 2012 elections, while challenges to the law take place in several federal appeals courts. Conservatives vowed to make it a front-burner issue after President Barack Obama decided in February his administration no longer would defend the law.
Much has changed since President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. The District of Columbia and six states now recognize gay marriage: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New York and New Hampshire.
The federal law has a huge negative economic impact on all gay couples through the denial of federal government benefits.
The couples cannot file joint federal income tax returns and take deductions available in traditional marriages. There are no spousal Social Security benefits. They can’t take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave law that protects one’s job and health insurance during emergency absences. Surviving gay spouses have no protection from estate taxes.