In a huge turning point in the fight for gay rights, on Wednesday Democrats introduced bills in both houses of Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
At separate press conferences on Wednesday, House and Senate Democrats introduced their versions of the Respect for Marriage Act. In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, and Kirsten Gillibrand, with about 20 cosponsors. The House repeal effort is led by Representatives Jerry Nadler and John Conyers, along with the four openly gay members of Congress, Representatives Tammy Baldwin, David Cicilline, Barney Frank, and Jared Polis, and 100 cosponsors, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The repeal bill comes after the White House announced last month that it will stop fighting to defend DOMA in court. A White House spokesman responded to the bills, saying:
The President has long said that DOMA is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress. We welcome the introduction of bills that would legislatively repeal DOMA, and look forward to working with lawmakers to achieve that goal.
Repealing DOMA will still be difficult, even with President Obama's support. As Speaker of the House John Boehner promised, House leadership is preparing to defend the law in court. The Advocate reports that Senator Chris Coons acknowledged getting the bills passed will be a challenge:
"This is not the first time that a repeal of DOMA has been introduced," Coons said. "But I hope that it will be the last. … The American people have had enough of government-sanctioned discrimination. If we don't get it done in this congress, then we'll try again in the 113th [congress]."
The Democratic advocacy group Third Way has been circulating a memo to supporters of the DOMA repeal that suggests they frame the issue around family values (taking back the term Republicans hijacked long ago). According to The Huffington Post, part of the memo reads:
Gay and lesbian couples may seem different from straight couples, but we all share similar values — like the importance of family and helping out our neighbors; worries — like making ends meet or the possibility of losing a job; and hopes and dreams — like finding that special someone to grow old with, and standing in front of friends and family to make a lifetime commitment.
In statements, including Senator Feinstein's speech in the clip above, Democrats used language that emphasized qualities of gay marriage that go beyond sexual orientation. They may not be able to push the bill through the Republican-controlled House, but at least instead of dodging the issue, Democrats are finally taking meaningful steps toward achieving marriage equality.