When asked by The Advocate last month if she believed that President Barack Obama should support marriage equality prior to the 2012 reelection, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who in March introduced legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, replied, "I believe that support of the president would be very welcomed. I hope he endorses my bill to repeal DOMA."
On that front, the senior senator from California got her wish today when White House officials announced the president would do so, one day prior to the first Senate hearing on legislative attempts to repeal the 1996 law that deprives same-sex married couples the same federal rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
"The president has long called for a legislative repeal of the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act,' which continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people -- our families, friends and neighbors," White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a Tuesday statement.
"[Obama] is proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, which would take DOMA off the books once and for all. This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples," Inouye said.
Feinstein's bill and the companion House bill reintroduced by Nadler are unlikely to become law in the current session, as Feinstein indicated to reporters at a Tuesday press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
When she introduced the bill in March at a press event flanked by colleagues including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Feinstein expressed optimism for bipartisan support for the bill that has yet to materialize.
"Not at this time," Feinstein, one of 14 senators to oppose DOMA in 1996, said when asked about Republican support of the bill on Tuesday. "I think it's a hard time, because of the Tea Party, and the sort of ideological bent right now. ... I think it's very important that we achieve a level of understanding of what this is. That it's not affording any special rights. It is simply saying that if you're legally married in a state, the federal government can't prevent your spouse, for example, from getting Social Security benefits."
But legislative repeal efforts are only one front in the battle against the discriminatory 1996 law that has cost many gay and lesbian couples their rights to equal benefits, such as Social Security payments and immigration sponsorship rights.
Flanked by gay and lesbian couples who spoke about hardships under DOMA in a news conference organized by the Courage Campaign, Feinstein said that she hoped the current tally of 27 senate cosponsors for her bill would grow.
Prior to the White House announcement, Feinstein said she had not spoken to the administration on her bill. But, she said, "I was very heartened when the administration came out with their belief that it [DOMA] was unconstitutional, and I think that's a major step forward. The issue will go to the Supreme Court. And that's one way of this issue being solved. The other way is legislatively."
Asked which route she would prefer, Feinstein replied, "I think we should do both. So that we secure the arena forever."
Courage Campaign chair Rick Jacobs said of the presidential endorsement, "We are delighted that today, on the eve of a historic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, President Obama endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act. It is rare that a White House endorses a bill that has yet to pass first in either the Senate or the House. President Obama's decision to do so underscores the urgency with which the Defense of Marriage Act must be repealed."