Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is boldly breaking away from the rest of the Republican party to become the first and likely only Republican to co-sponsor a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Ros-Lehtinen, currently the most senior female Republican member of the house and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has long been a champion of LGBT rights. She apparently isn't shying away from the fight in the face of her newfound power within the Republican caucus.
"I voted against the constitutional amendment defining marriage [in 2006] so I'm pleased to cosponsor the repeal of DOMA and work with my colleagues on marriage equality," Ros-Lehtinen tells The Advocate.
The Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law back in 1996 by Bill Clinton and defines marriage on the federal level as only between a man and a woman. The law allows states to not recognize gay marriages issued in other states, Moreover, it extends no legal benefits of marriage to gay couples on the federal level (including tax and immigration benefits).
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Ros-Lehtinen now joins 124 House Democrats in sponsoring the new Respect for Marriage act, which would repeal DOMA.
For years Ros-Lehtinen's support of gay rights was viewed as a political calculation. Her district is book-ended by South Beach and Key West, two very gay friendly places, but is mostly made up by a swath of southern Miami-Dade with a large amount of Cuban-American Republican voters who often don't align with the rest of their party on social issues anyway.
However, the issue has actually become personal for the congresswoman. Her transgender son, Rodrigo Lehtinen, is now a field organizer for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.