Rep. Charles Bass of New Hampshire has become the third Republican House member and the second within the past week to support legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and allow the federal government to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples.
Bass, who was defeated for re-election this year, did not release a statement about his decision to co-sponsor the measure known as the Respect for Marriage Act. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the original sponsor of the legislation, announced the development in a statement to The Advocate.
"I'm thrilled that Rep. Charlie Bass will be our newest GOP co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal DOMA,” he said. “Rep. Bass is the second Republican in the past week to endorse equal protection for all Americans. Though he won't be continuing his service in the next Congress, his commitment to equality and ending discrimination is truly appreciated."
The move from Bass follows Rep. Richard Hanna of New York, who last week announced his support in terms of the Tenth Amendment and states’ rights. Both representatives hail from states with legislatures that have passed marriage equality.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida became the first Republican House member to support DOMA repeal legislation last year. She and Hanna won reelection this past November.
Bass, who represents New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, first held the seat from 1995 to 2007. He was elected again in 2010. This year, he lost to Democrat Ann McLane Kuster, who supports DOMA repeal.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Bass privately told advocates that if re-elected he would co-sponsor the DOMA repeal legislation and work to build support among his House colleagues. The Republican-controlled New Hampshire state legislature defeated an attempt to repeal the marriage equality law earlier this year.
“I think he wants to be on the right side of his history,” said Kathryn Lehman, a lesbian Republican lobbyist working on the repeal effort. “His state has marriage, and the Republicans control the House and Senate in New Hampshire. I think he wants to show solidarity with his state and I think he just thinks it’s the right thing to do.”
The Respect for Marriage Act will need to be reintroduced next year in the new session of Congress. Advocates anticipate that with each new Republican co-sponsor, momentum will continue to grow.
"Congressman Bass, a man of his word, kept his promise to support the repeal of DOMA,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, which endorsed Bass in his re-election bid. “Log Cabin Republicans are encouraged by another ally co-sponsoring the Respect for Marriage Act and will continue to urge allies and friends in development to do the same."
While the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the Respect for Marriage Act last year, House Republican leadership continues to defend DOMA, which passed overwhelmingly in 1996, from challenges in federal court, including a case to be heard in the coming months by the Supreme Court. The recent election results, however, have prompted a vigorous discussion within the party about its position on marriage equality.
"With Congressman Charlie Bass' announcement that he will be the 160th cosponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act in the 112th Congress, we add another Republican supporter for repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” said Jo Deutsch, federal director for Freedom to Marry. “Whether in Washington, DC and the halls of Congress or in his home state of New Hampshire, Congressman Bass is a strong voice for what is fair and right. We are thrilled to have Congressman Bass join Congressmembers Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Richard Hanna as Republicans who support the Respect for Marriage Act. We look forward to more Republicans supporting the freedom to marry in the new Congress."
Michael Cole-Schwartz, director of media relations for the Human Rights Campaign, said, "Support from Rep. Bass shows that the partisan boundaries on respecting marriage are crumbling. No doubt Rep. Bass wants to be seen on the right side if history and we applaud his opposition to DOMA."