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Senate Democrats move forward with DOMA repeal vote

Senate Democrats have scheduled a committee vote on a bill to repeal DOMA -- the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- as a federal appeals court moves toward taking up legal challenges to the law.

Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday the committee will begin debate Nov. 3rd on the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced in March by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA). It would repeal DOMA, signed into law by President Clinton, which defines marriage, for federal purposes, as a relationship between a man and a woman.

A committee vote could happen Nov. 3rd, but is more likely a week later. All 10 committee Democrats support repeal of DOMA, but the bill's prospects are less certain in the full Senate. It faces virtually certain defeat in the Republican-controlled House.

House Republicans earlier this year authorized hiring a law firm to defend DOMA against two court challenges, after the Obama administration announced it had concluded that the law was unconstitutional and would therefore no longer defend it in court, even though the administration would continue to enforce it.

Both lawsuits, one filed by the state of Massachusetts, are pending before a federal appeals court, which has notified the parties that a panel of three judges will hear oral argument on the legal challenges in January, though the exact date has not yet been set.  A decision would not be expected for several more months, making it impossible to seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court before the court's current term ends in late June.

A repeal of DOMA would not force states to permit same-sex marriage but would require the federal government to recognize such marriages in states where they are legal.