The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 15-year-old law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing legally married same-sex couples.
The new legislation, written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is called the Respect for Marriage Act.
"There are 131,000 legally married, same-sex couples in this country who are denied more than 1,100 federal rights and protections because of this discriminatory law," Feinstein said. "I don't know how long the battle for full equality will take, but we are on the cusp of change, and today’s historic vote in the committee is an important step forward."
Currently, same-sex couples can't file joint federal tax returns or be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees workers' right to take unpaid leave for family and medical reasons without fear of losing their jobs.
But the legislation, which might continue to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, is likely to die in the Republican-controlled House.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) was one of eight members of the committee to oppose the legislation Thursday.
"Under this bill, for the first time, millions of Americans living in states that have chosen to affirm traditional marriage would be forced to subsidize federal rights and benefits for individuals in same-sex marriages," Hatch said. "That's why I opposed this bill today and will continue to support DOMA."