Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said he thinks the fight for gay rights is a continuation of the national civil rights battle.
With a markup set to begin Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to approve legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, but with little chance of passage in the full Senate, the measure has become largely a base-rallying message for the two parties.
“It probably won’t move forward on the floor, but I do think we’ll have a favorable outcome with the committee markup, and it will be an opportunity to keep building co-sponsors and keep building support in the Senate on this issue,” said Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel with the Human Rights Campaign.
The panel will begin marking up the Respect for Marriage Act, which has 30 co-sponsors in the Senate and would repeal DOMA, the 1996 law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The measure is likely to be voted on next week.
All 10 Democrats on the committee back the bill, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), who introduced the measure in March. Feinstein is a former mayor of San Francisco and a longtime champion for gay rights.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has also pushed for gay rights, which he believes is a continuation of the nation’s fight for civil rights.
“If we don’t bring these issues up, if we don’t bring them up and have votes, then nothing ever happens,” Leahy said Friday on Vermont Public Radio. “Back when I was a kid in high school and college, people would say, ‘We really can’t bring up any good civil rights laws because the southerners would block them, or they won’t pass.’… Fortunately, some brave people started bringing them up, and after a while, they passed.”
At a July hearing on DOMA, Leahy said some GOP Members did not attend and few questions were asked, which he attributed to a softening opposition. He added that some Republicans have told him privately that they were “not quite ready, but sooner or later this is going to pass.”
Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) believes the bill is unnecessary and said the will of the Senate was carried out when DOMA was passed, 85-14, in 1996. A spokeswoman pointed to his opening statement at the hearing in July.
“George Orwell would have marveled at that name. A real bill to restore marriage would restore marriage as it has been known: as between one man and one woman,” Grassley said. “That is the view of marriage that I support. This bill would undermine, not restore, marriage by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.