The Senate Judiciary Committee approved on Thursday legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, setting up a battle with the House of Representatives, which is defending the law in court.
The repeal was approved without amendment on a strictly party-line vote–10 Democrats voted for the legislation and eight Republicans voted against it.
Debate over DOMA became intense in February, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would no longer defend the law, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. House Republican leaders subsequently announced they would pay former Solicitor General Paul Clement up to $1.5 million to defend the law, as Main Justice previously reported.
Committee ranking Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa.) criticized President Barack Obama and Holder at Thursday’s meeting, saying that Justice Departments under Clinton and President George W. Bush considered DOMA to be constitutional. However, he said, the current administration’s DOJ “refuses to make any reasonable arguments for DOMA’s constitutionality, even though DOMA is the same as it has always been.”
Republicans also argued that discussing the bill is a waste of the Judiciary Committee’s time because it has little chance of passing the House.
“Instead of debating divisive legislation,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said, “we should be discussing how to create jobs.”
Grassley added that Republicans decided not to propose any amendments they had been discussing, because they thought it would be pointless, given the Republican majority in the House and the party’s ability to filibuster bills in the Senate.
But after the vote took place, bill sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) characterized the vote as a moral victory for Democrats, telling reporters that they would bring the issue up for a full floor vote in the Senate when they believed they had 60 votes, and that getting it out of committee was a big step.
“If we have to reintroduce it next session, we’ll do it,” she said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, however, that Democrats would find it hard to conjure up the 60 votes needed to bypass filibusters and pass a DOMA repeal, even if they held that many seats.
“Before next election, [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada)] will face a revolution in his own caucus,” he said, adding that he considered the move to be “a transparent appeal to special interest groups.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) rejected that charge.
“I am not counting votes or donations. I think its the right thing to do. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history on this issue,” he said, adding that Democrats’ support for the gender equality and the Civil Rights movement has eroded the party’s base in the past.
“This could end up costing us money,” he said.