Maryland legislators who voted for DOMA now part of effort to repeal it

Maryland's representatives in Congress have evolved on the issue of same-sex marriage, as Tuesday served to remind us.

It's now part of the accepted narrative on same-sex marriage in this country that many long-serving politicians, particularly Democrats, have "evolved" on the issue over the last two decades -- mostly following their constituencies toward greater support for gay couples.

President Barack Obama did it. Bill and Hillary Clinton did, too. And, so did several Maryland legislators -- as we were reminded once again Tuesday, when companion Senate and House bills were filed in Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.


That law banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages in 1996, at a time when legislators felt increasing pressure to put a federal restriction on marriages as being between a man and a woman. Marriage law is widely considered a state issue, but calls for federal action had begun to heat up at the time as the still-remote possibility of states passing same-sex marriage laws began to gain a foothold.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Maryland and upheld by voters in 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of DOMA in 2013, but other parts of the law remain. Subsequent lower court rulings overturning state bans on same-sex marriages since have brought about a huge shift this year in the country, where such marriages are now legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court could very well take up the issue of same-sex marriage again soon.


Still, the now-annual attempts in Congress to repeal DOMA in the same legislative chambers that first put it in place represent a symbolic gesture, if not an outright attempt among some to reverse their official position on the record before the Supreme Court beats them to the punch.

"The vast majority of Americans live in states where same-sex couples can marry and public support for marriage equality is growing stronger by the day. Repeal of DOMA is long overdue," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, in a statement Tuesday about his repeal bill. "That is why we are reintroducing the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals DOMA in its entirety and sends DOMA into the history books where it belongs."

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The following Maryland legislators have stood as co-sponsors of this year's repeal bills: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Sen. Benjamin Cardin, and Reps. Elijah Cummings, Steny Hoyer, John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen.

In 1996, all of the above legislators who were in Congress at the time -- Mikulski, Cardin (then in the House), Cummings and Hoyer -- all voted for DOMA.

This is far from the first time they've acknowledged a change in heart when it comes to same-sex marriages. It's not even the first time they've supported a DOMA repeal. They've all come out in support of same-sex marriage in the past.

But the announcement of Tuesday's bills still seems a good opportunity to take a look back.

With so many victories for same-sex marriage proponents of late, it can be difficult to remember how far the country and state have come.

On Tuesday, Cardin -- who an aide in 1996 said held a "traditional view" of marriage being between a man and a woman -- had a different message.


"By striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act the Supreme Court affirmed the core principle on which our nation was founded: all persons must be treated equally under the law. Despite this victory for civil rights, large portions of the law still allow for discrimination against legally-married LGBT couples," Cardin said in a statement.  "I believe that there is no place for discrimination in American society. Congress should pass the Respect for Marriage Act and ensure that the federal government is not complicit in blatant discrimination. America should be a beacon of human rights for nations around the world. That the United States still has statutorily discriminatory laws like DOMA on the books is simply unacceptable."