Coons chairs panel debating gay marriage bill

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DOVER, Del. (AP) _ Delaware Sen. Chris Coons is playing a key role as Congress considers a bill to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Coons was to chair a Senate Judiciary Committee panel hearing Wednesday on legislation repealing the current law, which makes same-sex couples ineligible for federal benefits extended to married, heterosexual couples.

Coons is a co-sponsor of California Democrat Dianne Feinstein's bill, entitled the ``Respect for Marriage Act.''

Witnesses scheduled to testify before Coons' panel in favor of the bill are Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of a group called Freedom to Marry.

Testifying against the bill will be Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, and Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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