Reporting from Washington — Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a renewed attack on the 15-year-old law the Obama administration has said it would no longer defend in court from challenges brought on behalf of same-sex couples.
The legislation comes as the Republican-led House has initiated its own legal defense of the act, which prevents gay couples from receiving various federal rights that are extended to heterosexual couples.
"It is time to right this wrong," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in introducing the bill with other senators. "This bill will ensure that all married couples in the United States enjoy equal protection of our laws."
INTERACTIVE: Track rights for same-sex couples
The act became law during the Clinton administration and was designed largely to prevent same-sex marriages from states that allow them to be recognized in states that do not. Five states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriages.
Several court cases are underway on behalf of legally married gay couples that are banned from receiving tax, Social Security, family leave and other federal benefits. Feinstein said there are tens of thousands of legally married same-sex couples in the country, and more than 18,000 in California.
The Obama administration, in a major victory for gay rights groups, announced this year that its Justice Department would no longer defend the law.
But House Republican leaders under Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have initiated a legal defense of the act through the House counsel's office.
Advocates of equal rights for same-sex couples praised the new legislation.
"It's time the federal government stops playing favorites and instead creates an equal playing field for all families," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group.