On a voice vote, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday recommended the confirmation of openly gay attorney Michael Fitzgerald to serve on the federal bench in Los Angeles. But, at the request of Republicans, the Committee postponed its vote on a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced during the November 3 business meeting that Senator Charles Grassely, the ranking Republican on the committee, had asked that the vote on the Respect for Marriage Act ( S. 598 ) be held over until next week.
Leahy granted the bill's chief sponsor, Senator Dianne Feinstein ( D-Calif. ) , an opportunity to speak for the bill. Feinstein noted that the Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) had been passed "five years ago," in 1996, when no state had yet made it possible for same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses. ( She later corrected her remarks to note that it had been passed 15 years ago. ) Today, said Feinstein, six states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"Now," she said, "there are 131,000 same-sex couples in the United States. They are real people." And DOMA, she said, "is the pernicious denial" of equal rights to that class of legally married couples.
Leahy himself compared DOMA to laws that once prohibited interracial marriages.
Senator Charles Schumer ( D-NY ) quoted the 19th Century French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville as having marveled at the United States' "march to equality." The repeal of DOMA, said Schumer, "will be a large step in that direction."
"It will happen," said Schumer. "It will happen. Let's just hope it happens sooner rather than later."
The Respect for Marriage vote is now scheduled for Thursday, November 10.
President Obama's nomination of Fitzgerald advanced with minimal opposition expressed by Republican's. Fitzgerald, 52, has been fairly heavily involved in both gay and non-gay legal and political issues. He noted himself that he spent "hundreds of hours" doing pro bono work that led to the elimination of a ban on gay people from service as FBI agents. That history prompted the only Republican in attendance at his confirmation hearing last month to label him an "activist."
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