Senate Democrats took a step Thursday toward ending the federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The next stop is a full Senate vote.
All eight Republicans on the committee voted against the measure.
Supporters of the "Respect Marriage Act" said the legislation would give same-sex couples access to the same federal benefits as couples in a traditional marriage.
"Repealing DOMA is a matter of fairness," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said. "And those Americans who are lawfully married should have the same protections that my wife and I enjoy."
Opponents argued that the bill would lead to court challenges forcing states that ban same-sex marriage to recognize the unions.
"Traditional marriage between a man and a woman has been the foundation of our society for 6,000 years," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said. "The Defense of Marriage Act protects this sacred institution, which I believe in, and attempts to dismantle this law are likely to be met with a great deal of resistance."
Nearly 40 states have laws that define marriage as between one man and one woman.