Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, but he applauded Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision that struck down the law’s denial of federal benefits to married gay couples.
“Obviously I think it’s a very, very good ruling by the court. It’s one of the votes I wrestled with at the time,” said Foley, who is gay but did not go public with his sexual orientation until he resigned from Congress in 2006 in an uproar over sexually charged Internet messages he sent to congressional pages.
Foley was part of the bipartisan majority when DOMA passed the House on a 342-67 vote in July 1996. The Senate approved the law two months later on an 85-14 vote and Democratic President Bill Clinton signed it into law.
DOMA says that no state shall be required to recognize a same-sex relationship that is treated as marriage by another state. That portion of the law remains intact. Wednesday’s 5-4 ruling invalidates a provision of the law that says for all federal laws and regulations, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’’
Foley said he continues to support the right of each state to define marriage. But he said he was always uncomfortable with the DOMA’s provision denying federal benefits to gay couples whose marriages were recognized by a state.
Just before the final vote for DOMA, Foley was one of 30 Republicans who joined 132 Democrats in a failed motion to recommit with instructions. Foley said that procedural vote was an attempt “to force an in-depth study” to address federal benefits issues.
“The idea was to let the states make the decision. Regrettably, we didn’t come up with a proper way to deal with the benefits,” Foley said Wednesday. He said he voted for DOMA because, at the time, his belief in states’ rights outweighed his misgivings about the issue of federal benefits.
“The crux was that federal benefit part. I wrestled with that. That was a tough vote…It was a real gut-wrenching vote,” Foley said.
While Foley supported DOMA, he broke with socially conservative Republicans on other gay-rights issues. In 2004, he voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, an effort to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Foley also voted against efforts by Congress to block the District of Columbia government from providing gay couples with the same health benefits received by married couples.
While continuing to defend the idea of states defining marriage, Foley said he wished he had voted differently on DOMA.
“Had I had a chance to re-vote that bill I would have many, many times, even while I still served,” Foley said. “Today repudiates the vote and happily so for me. I’m very, very pleased.”