DOMA Isn't Dead Yet

Democratic lawmakers are trying to repeal the law in full, despite the Supreme Court ruling.

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) listens during a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works meeting discussing global warming on January 30, 2007. (National Journal)

The fight against the Defense of Marriage Act isn't quite over yet.

In a landmark Supreme Court decision on Wednesday, justices ruled that Section 3 of the 1996 law, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. As Justice Anthony Kennedy argued, "DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code."

But other parts of the law itself are still in effect, including Section 2. This part of the law allows states where same-sex marriage is either illegal or unrecognized not to honor the legal unions from other states around the country. Say a same-sex couple gets married in Iowa; their marriage does not have to be recognized in Alabama. This could become an issue if a couple needs to move to a different state.

That's where Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., think they can help. The two lawmakers are reintroducing the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA in its entirety. The bill also makes a uniform rule that recognizes same-sex couples under federal law, no matter where they may live.

Feinstein and Nadler's bill would amend the federal code for marriage as follows:

For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual's marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State.

Even though the president has ordered his administration to start the process of granting these benefits to same-sex couples, the bill sponsors say this new measure ensures full equality.

"Our legislation is necessary because inequities in the administration of more than 1,100 federal laws affected by DOMA — including Social Security and veterans' benefits — will still need to be fixed. It is time Congress strike this discriminatory law once and for all," Feinstein said in a statement.

The bill already has widespread Democratic support in both houses of Congress — 161 cosponsors in the House and 41 cosponsors in the Senate — but it remains to be seen how the bill would play amongst Republicans. The idea of surpassing state laws on same-sex marriage is heavily criticized by many Republicans who argue that states should have the right to define marriage. Even Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who supports same-sex marriage, continues to say that the issue should be resolved in the states.

President Obama has already spoken in favor of this idea in principle, though not specifically mentioning this new bill introduced by Feinstein and Nadler.

"It's my personal belief — but I'm speaking now as a president as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you've been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you're still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple," Obama said in a press conference in Senegal on Thursday. "But, again, I'm speaking as a president and not as a lawyer."