Bernie voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and fought against efforts to ban marriage equality. The bill passed the House 342 – 67, with 188 Democrats and 224 Republicans voting in favor of DOMA; 64 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and a lone Independent, Bernie Sanders, all voting no. The bill passed the Senate 85 -14, with 33 Democrats and 50 Republicans voting in favor of DOMA.
DOMA was an anti-gay law the Republican majority in Congress cooked up in 1996 to stymie President Clinton as he sought re-election. It drew on (unfounded) public fears as Hawaii’s courts were leading the way for the state to legalize same-sex marriage and sought to bar the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions for federal benefits. Moreover, DOMA allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
As the world changed and politicians from all sides changed their votes to reflect the changing times, this initial 1996 vote would resurface in campaign platforms for decades to come.
During Sanders’ first presidential campaign, he reminded citizens of that first DOMA vote: “You have all the Republicans and too many Democrats saying “we are going to make it very difficult for people who are gay to get married. And people voted for that disastrous piece of legislation and apologized for it years later when the world changed. I don’t have to apologize because I voted against it.”
Moreover, when Sanders sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, his track record compared to Joe Biden on the issue of LGBTQ rights would come back to this DOMA vote.