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DOMA Repeal Vote Represents a Critical Shift

The wind has been taken out of opponents' sails.
Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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November 10, 2011

On Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines (10-8) in support of the Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598), legislation that would fully repeal the discriminatory and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Unsurprisingly, all 10 Democratic cosponsors of the legislation on the Judiciary Committee offered strong statements of support and voted in support of the legislation. However, what was surprising was the minimal, token opposition offered by the supposed supporters of DOMA on the committee. Granted, at the end of the day, each voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, however, no “poison pill” amendments were offered and by the time a final vote was called, there was only one DOMA supporter actually remaining in the room — Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

Sitting in the room, it was clear to me that a critical shift has taken place in Congress in the 15 years since DOMA was signed into law. This shift is evident not only among congressional supporters of LGBT rights, but also among opponents. It is almost as if the wind has been taken out of their sails. While they still are willing to “carry the water” for anti-gay organizations, it’s obvious that they would rather not have to debate and vote on these issues.

This is no doubt the result of several factors, including the reality that there are currently more than 80,000 married same-sex couples across the country. Many of these couples are raising children together and share many of the same needs and worries as other American families. Another contributing factor is the result of the fact that the American public is increasingly accepting of recognition of same-sex relationships, including the freedom to marry. With the momentous victory in New York this summer extending the freedom to marry to lesbians and gay men, the number of Americans who enjoy this freedom jumped from nearly 16 million to 35 million. The trend lines — including overwhelming support among younger generations of Americans — on these issues are striking and unmistakable.

Even Congress has not been immune to these changes. Where advocates for LGBT rights once had to fight off one legislative attack after another, including a proposed amendment to the Constitution to make same-sex couples permanent, second-class citizens, we now find ourselves in the unique position of actually being able to move the ball forward. Last year, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee took a critical step forward by voting to repeal the last remaining federal law that specifically singles out people for discrimination based simply on their sexual orientation.

In a statement to the Judiciary Committee just before today’s vote, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that DOMA, like other discriminatory barriers before it, would inevitably fall. The question was not whether DOMA would be repealed, but when. If what happened today is any indication, I’d put my money on sooner rather than later.

Join the ACLU in calling on Congress to repeal DOMA once and for all.

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