Legislation which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act is set to be debated by a US Senate Judiciary Committee today.

Of the 18 members of the Committee, 10 are Democrats who support the repeal of DOMA, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and allows states to choose not to recognise gay marriages entered into in other states.

The support means the Senate bill, sponsored by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, should move out of the committee stage to be read by the Senate as a whole.

Although the committee action on the legislation is set to begin today, the panel has the power to hold off on consideration of the bill for another week.

Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry group said: “Today is another step toward restoration of the traditional practice of having the federal government respect marriages lawfully celebrated by the states – and eliminating the gay exception that unfairly denies that equal treatment to loving and committed couples who have gotten legally married.”

“As the Senate Judiciary Committee considers this bill, we urge members to take into account the real harms families face because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and the burdens this departure from the usual way the federal government honors marriages imposes on businesses, employers, and others dealing with married couples.”

The Respect for Marriage Act is not intended to force states to introduce same-sex marriages, but would lift the provisions preventing federal benefits and responsibilities from being passed to existing married gay couples across the Union.