The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, headed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), is holding a hearing Thursday to assess whether measures, including a proposed constitutional amendment, should be taken to safeguard the federal Defense of Marriage Act, The Hill reports. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Cornyn, said successive hearings to discuss an amendment or other "reaffirmation by Congress and the president" are likely to follow because momentum is building. The House is examining a constitutional amendment, but no such measure has been introduced in the Senate, although Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has said he would support one.
It takes a two-thirds vote in Congress and ratification by three fourths of the 50 states to pass a constitutional amendment. Already, 37 states have passed their own DOMAs, defining marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of state law. The federal DOMA, signed by President Clinton in 1996, allows states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states and also defines marriage strictly as a heterosexual union. The debate comes at a time of intense furor among religious conservatives who believe that federal courts are undermining religion in public life. Those fears have been fueled by a series of recent or pending events, including the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down state sodomy laws, a pending Massachusetts supreme court ruling to allow gay couples to marry in that state, and the expectation that California governor Gray Davis will sign a sweeping domestic-partners bill currently on his desk.