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Republicans introduce a bill that looks a lot like DOMA

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has launched another battle: an attempt to reverse the Supreme Court's landmark DOMA decision.
Ted Cruz walks to the Senate floor for a vote whether to raise the debt ceiling, Feb. 12, 2014.
Ted Cruz walks to the Senate floor for a vote whether to raise the debt ceiling, Feb. 12, 2014.

Fresh off his failure to successfully filibuster a yearlong increase in the country’s debt limit this week, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz launched the beginning of another precarious battle -- an attempt to reverse the Supreme Court's landmark decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Cruz and Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee introduced  a bill on Wednesday “to amend chapter 1 of title 1, United States Code, with regard to the definition of ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ for Federal purposes.”

Though its text is not yet available, the measure is widely considered to be the Senate companion of the State Marriage Defense Act, introduced last month in the House by Republican Rep. Randy Weber of Texas.

If passed, the bill would defer to state definitions of marriage for federal protections and spousal benefits, essentially undoing the effects of last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the case of United States v. Windsor. That decision overturned a central provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowing the U.S. government to begin recognizing same-sex nuptials.

Thirty-three states currently define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and the State Marriage Defense Act would require that the federal government use those definitions when determining, for example, whether a gay couple could file jointly on their tax return. If the couple were married in New York, but lived in Alabama, they could not.

“It’s a very cynical way of trying to reincarnate DOMA in a new form,” said Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, to msnbc. “This proposal is really designed to prevent married same-sex couples from receiving federal recognition for their marriages.”

Cruz sees it differently. In a statement released Thursday, the lawmaker reaffirmed his support for “traditional marriage” and accused the Obama administration of forcing states to upend their marriage laws.

“Under President Obama, the federal government has tried to re-define marriage, and to undermine the constitutional authority of each state to define marriage consistent with the values of its citizens,” he said. “The Obama Administration should not be trying to force gay marriage on all 50 states."

Though a number of state bans on gay marriage have crumbled in court since the DOMA decision, the ruling did not directly strike down all barriers to same-sex nuptials. Rather, Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, left it to the states to determine their own marriage laws, while at the same stressing the importance of equality and basic dignity for gay couples. 

Thompson called Cruz’s logic “very deceptive.”

“What we’re talking about here has nothing to do with whether a state recognizes these marriages,” he said. “Their laws have not been impacted by the Windsor decision.”

All this discussion on Cruz and Lee’s bill may be in vain, however, as it stands next to no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. And seeing as President Obama refused to defend DOMA the first time around, it’s doubtful he’d now sign its legislative cousin.