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Reps. Baldwin and Broun (AP/Ron Edmonds and Gregory Smith)

Dueling bills

Congress | House members on both sides of the marriage debate push legislation that has little chance of gaining traction

WASHINGTON-Democratic House lawmakers this week have launched an uphill battle to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Three Democrats-Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.)-introduced legislation to strike down the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a women.

"In support of families throughout the nation, our legislation will extend to same-sex, legally married couples the same federal rights and recognition now offered to heterosexual married couples, nothing more, nothing less," said Baldwin.

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The effort to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has more than 90 co-sponsors behind it, but that does not include Rep. Barney Frank, the openly gay lawmaker from Massachusetts. Many Democrats admit the bill's chances for passage are slim. In fact, House leaders have not put it on the calendar for a floor debate. President Barack Obama campaigned last year in support of repealing DOMA, but the White House's lack of action has frustrated many liberals.

Still, gay marriage advocates are making headway at the state level through the courts. Since 1996, four states-Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Vermont-have recognized same-sex marriages. Next year New Hampshire will join this list.

"Traditional marriage-a principle tenant in our Judeo-Christian values-is under assault more than ever before," said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.

Now the bill's introduction in the House pits it against the conservative Marriage Protection Amendment. That measure, which currently has 36 co-sponsors, would amend the U.S. Constitution to shield marriage from judicial rulings.

"There have been consistent attempts by judges to overturn state law and thwart the will of the people," said Broun, a sponsor of the amendment, who is calling for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to allow his amendment to be considered on the House floor.

But Broun's proposal faces even longer odds than the Democrats' push to repeal DOMA. An amendment to the Constitution requires support from two-thirds of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. Both efforts currently have zero traction in the Senate, meaning the marriage debate will continue to be just that-a debate. And expect that debate to ramp up heading into next year's mid-term elections.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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