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Democrats Eyeing DOMA Repeal

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has 30 co-sponsors on her bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, but she is pessimistic about the measure’s chances of passage. Nevertheless, some Democrats feel it is a fight worth having.

They may not have the votes for passage, but Senate Democrats say they aren't giving up on their push to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

"No, I don't believe it does at this stage," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said when asked whether her legislation to repeal the 1996 law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman has 60 votes in the Senate.

But she insisted that next month's Judiciary Committee markup of the bill is important to build momentum for repeal and said it is likely to be approved by the committee.

"Look, some battles take 10 years, some take five, some take two, it all depends," she said. "We're in it for the long haul, and it could go on for years. I'm not clairvoyant. I don't know. I do know it's the right thing to do."

For Democrats and Republicans, DOMA has become a flash point in the culture wars this year, after it became gay rights activists' top priority following last year's repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the policy that prohibited gay individuals from openly serving in the military. In February, President Barack Obama said DOMA was unconstitutional and instructed the Justice Department not to defend it in court. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), following a party-line vote by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, took steps to defend the law in court cases and criticized the White House for no longer doing so.

At this month's 2011 Values Voter Summit, the Speaker pledged to the gathering of conservative activists that, "If the Justice Department isn't going to defend this act passed by Congress, then we will."

Despite the back-and-forth, a repeal of DOMA is unlikely this year and could be an even more difficult legislative task than last year's successful vote to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

"In terms of a legislative strategy, what they're having to deal with is the political reality that this isn't going to happen," a Democratic strategist said. "We were able to get [the] 'don't ask, don't tell' [repeal] through because people had a fairly lengthy discussion of the issue and we had both chambers. But now, even if we were able to get it through the Senate, we can't get it through the House. So let's focus on the things we can find agreement on."

Activists also acknowledge the path to overturning DOMA could be long. And while they are just as pessimistic about the chances for Feinstein's bill this year, they maintain that the legislative push is still necessary.

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