DOMA repeal advances from Senate committee

Will Congress repeal the Defense of Marriage Act this year? No, it won’t. Is a vote like this encouraging anyway? Yes, it is.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to repeal a federal law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

The vote was 10-8, with all committee Democrats supporting repeal and all Republicans opposed.

The repeal measure is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has picked up 31 co-sponsors. By all indications, they’re not even close to having the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican obstructionism, and even if the DOMA measure passed the Senate on an up-or-down vote, there’s simply no chance of a right-wing House even considering it.

To this extent, the committee action was largely symbolic, though Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said, “It is never the wrong time to right an injustice.”

The reason it’s encouraging is that it’s evidence of significant progress. When DOMA was approved in 1996, the mainstream of both parties supported it. Even Leahy, as reliable a progressive as he is, voted the wrong way at the time.

But Democrats, like the larger culture, have progressed on equality issues. It would have been hard to predict 15 years ago that, in 2011, literally every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee would support the law’s repeal, and that a Democratic president would be an enthusiastic support of the repeal effort, but that’s exactly what’s happened.

Republicans are still Republicans, and it will take more time for the GOP to let go of its anti-gay animus, but today’s vote signals yet another step in the right direction.