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.
Rep. Nadler's full statement on Ros-Lehtinen's cosponsorship:
It is with great joy that I welcome my friend and colleague, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as the 125th cosponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen has long been 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. And her support reminds us that the march to repeal the discriminatory DOMA is not a partisan issue. Just as New York showed the nation this summer in its bipartisan embrace of marriage equality, the drive to end DOMA is -- and must be -- a collective, nonpartisan effort that unites Americans behind a simple push for equality. Our coalition grows stronger and larger every day.
Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper's statement:
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has long been on the frontlines in fighting for human dignity at home and abroad. As a founding member of the House LGBT Equality Caucus she has been 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. Marriage is a fundamental right of all Americans. The so-called Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") is an offense to the core conservative principles of liberty and federalism. It has been repudiated by its author, former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA), and is rejected by a growing majority of Americans. It is time that our law respected all marriages. There is much work to be done to make that dream a reality, but with Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen's leadership, marriage equality is on the horizon.
Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson's statement:
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's support for this important bill confirms that equal respect for all marriages is a bipartisan, mainstream value. Working with Representatives Ros-Lehtinen, Nadler, and the Respect for Marriage Act's many cosponsors, Freedom to Marry will continue to make the case to Republican and Democratic members of Congress that it's time to return the federal government to its proper role of honoring all marriages legal in the states -- without a gay exception.
Ros-Lehtinen's prepared remarks at the Log Cabin Republicans' Spirit of Lincoln Awards reception:
It is an honor to be here at the 2011 Spirit of Lincoln Awards reception.
I also want to congratulate Log Cabin Republican Executive Director Clarke Cooper and Deputy Executive Director Christian Berle for putting together this wonderful event.
Over the years, we have made important steps in securing equal rights for all Americans.
As a founding member of the Congressional LGBT Equality caucus, I have worked to extend equal rights to the LGBT community and eliminate hate-motivated crimes.
However, I know that without each and every one of you my voice would be lost in the background.
As a result of your tireless work, we have won great victories in the last few years such as the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and New York's passage of marriage equality.
For too many years, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" made many of our brave men and women hide who they are.
Many went from one day to the next always worried whether they were going to be discharged.
No one who wants to serve in our armed forces should be turned away due to sexual orientation.
This summer, New York's state legislature recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry.
This historic event was also a triumph for limited government.
As Republicans, we are committed to ensure that the federal governments play its proper role.
Defining marriage is not part of that role.
We are here tonight for equality and self-worth.
All of us know that LGBT equality is not about creating "special rights";
It is about ensuring the individual rights we all share as we fight for equality and justice.
As Republicans, we believe that our individual rights are not granted by our government.
They are our birthright.
We also believe individuals should be judged on their merits and accomplishments and not by their race, religion or sexual orientation.
That is why the work Log Cabin Republicans does is so important.
You are able to show that conservative principles dovetail perfectly into issues of freedom and equality.
Those of the very issues the LGBT community has been fighting for and will continue to fight for.
With your help our country will continue its journey towards that "more perfect union" and give every individual, in the words of President Lincoln, "an unfettered start in the race of life."
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Ros-Lehtinen is the only GOP member of the House LGBT Equality Caucus. Richard Hanna, a Republican from New York, is also a caucus member.