DOMA Repeal Gets Its First Republican Cosponsor
September 23 2011 5:20 AM ET
A bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act now has bipartisan support after Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida announced Friday that she would cosponsor the legislation, becoming the first Republican to do so.
“I voted against the constitutional amendment defining marriage [in 2006] so I’m pleased to cosponsor the repeal of DOMA and work with my colleagues on marriage equality,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Florida’s 18th district, which includes South Beach, most sections of Miami, and the Florida Keys.
Though the South Florida representative has a long history of voting in favor of LGBT rights, her decision to join 124 House Democrats in cosponsoring the Respect for Marriage Act nevertheless is a bold move, given the Republican House leadership’s defense of DOMA in multiple legal challenges after the Obama administration announced in February it would no longer defend the law.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, original sponsor of the House DOMA repeal bill, called Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, “a tremendous ally in the world’s struggles for freedom and against oppression and discrimination.”
“She is widely recognized as a champion of human rights and human dignity,” Nadler said. “And her support reminds us that the march to repeal the discriminatory DOMA is not a partisan issue. ... The drive to end DOMA is — and must be — a collective, nonpartisan effort that unites Americans behind a simple push for equality.”
Ros-Lehtinen’s announcement comes just days after the historic end to “don’t ask, don’t tell” — which she also voted to repeal.
In Tuesday evening prepared remarks at the Log Cabin Republicans’ Spirit of Lincoln Awards reception in Washington, D.C., where she was warmly received, the congresswoman perhaps hinted at her eventual support to repeal the 1996 anti-marriage equality law. “As Republicans, we are committed to ensure that the federal government play its proper role. Defining marriage is not part of that role,” she said. (Update: Ros-Lehtinen did not deliver the prepared remarks but did release them following the event.)
Log Cabin executive director R. Clarke Cooper said in a Friday statement that Ros-Lehtinen is “a reliable ally and leader time and again on legislation to secure freedom and fairness for all Americans. Log Cabin Republicans are grateful that she has once again stepped forward as an inclusive leader by cosponsoring the Respect for Marriage Act.”
The congresswoman’s cosponsorship also follows recent lobbying efforts by representatives from LGBT advocacy groups including Cooper and Freedom to Marry federal director Jo Deutsch, both of whom met with the congresswoman’s office in July to discuss DOMA repeal.
"[Ros-Lehtinen's] support for this important bill confirms that equal respect for all marriages is a bipartisan, mainstream value,” Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson said.
As a member of the House LGBT Equality Caucus, where she serves as a vice-chair, Ros-Lehtinen is no stranger to stepping ahead of her party on gay and lesbian issues. In May she became the first Republican to cosponsor a bill that would ban discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to become adoptive or foster parents. Ros-Lehtinen has supported federal protections against anti-LGBT employment discrimination as well as a bill to provide tax equity to gay couples for employer-sponsored health care.
In 2008, Ros-Lehtinen also was a vocal opponent of Florida's Amendment 2, a voter-approved constitutional amendment that eventually banned marriage rights as well as civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
“I would say her move is courageous, if not necessarily risky, as she has supported LGBT rights in the past without much consequence,” said one political observer of Ros-Lehtinen’s DOMA repeal support.
But as Freedom to Marry national campaign director Marc Solomon noted of her decision, “It’s always hardest to be the first. And I do think that after today’s announcement, other [Republicans] will follow.”
Last week a North Carolina Democrat, Rep. Brad Miller, signed on to Nadler’s bill following his state legislature’s approval of an anti-marriage equality amendment to be decided by voters in May. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, also announced that he would cosponsor the legislation last week.
Though the bill is not expected to move in the current Congress — and DOMA's constitutionality could well be resolved by the courts before any legislative action takes place, “it’s very compelling that [after DADT], we’ve now moved onto this last major vestige of federal discrimination” against LGBT Americans, Solomon said.
The Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced in March by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, currently has 29 Democratic cosponsors.
President Obama in July expressed his support for the bill: "The President has long called for a legislative repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people — our families, friends and neighbors," White House officials said in a July statement.
Michelle Garcia contributed reporting.
After the jump, read complete statements from Nadler, Log Cabin, and Freedom to Marry and Ros-Lehtinen's statement to Log Cabin.