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National News
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
2011-03-23

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DOMA repeal bills introduced in Congress

Bills were introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress on March 16 to repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act.

The act prohibits the federal government from recognizing states' same-sex marriages and gives states cover to refuse to recognize each other's same-sex marriages.

The federal-recognition part of the act recently was deemed unconstitutional by President Barack Obama and the Justice Department, which has stopped defending that portion of the act in a series of ongoing federal lawsuits.

At the same time, the department declared that any discrimination based on sexual orientation, like discrimination based on race or religion, is automatically unconstitutional absent some important governmental need for treating gay people differently.

The DOMA-repeal bill, called the Respect for Marriage Act, might not see a floor vote in either chamber this year, though it is likely to proceed further in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

It was introduced in the House by Reps. Jerry Nadler, John Conyers, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis and David Cicilline, the latter four of whom are openly gay. It was introduced in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy and Kirsten Gillibrand. In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer are among the measure's more than 100 sponsors.

"The debate over DOMA isn't about whether you favor marriage equality, it's about whether the government can pick and choose which marriages they like, and which they don't," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "With five states and D.C. granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it's time the federal government stops playing favorites and instead creates an equal playing field for all families."

"In 1996, DOMA was just hypothetical discrimination because every state excluded same-sex couples from marriage," Solmonese added. "Today we see it in much more concrete terms -- as tangible, heart-wrenching, real-life discrimination."

DOMA deprives married same-sex couples of some 1,100 federal marriage rights and benefits -- including Social Security survivor benefits, federal employee spousal health coverage, protections against spouses' losing their homes during medical emergencies, the right to sponsor a foreign partner for immigration, and the ability to file a joint tax return.

National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell said repealing DOMA "will correct a shameful low point in our nation's history."

"DOMA was passed in a moment of ugly anti-gay bigotry," she said. "Every day that it stays on the books, DOMA harms families, stigmatizes our relationships and perpetuates a climate of hostility for all LGBT people."

Lambda Legal's Marriage Project director, Jennifer Pizer, said her group "has heard from countless married same-sex couples who, because of DOMA, must pay extra federal income taxes on health insurance, are denied essential family benefits through Social Security, endure wrenching separation if one spouse is not an American citizen, and face a host of other injustices large and small."

"DOMA did something never done before in U.S. history," Pizer said. "It said the federal government will pretend that an entire class of legally married couples is not really married due to other people's religious or moral views about them, or because they don't fit how a declining number of people envision 'family.'"

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said, "It is shocking that in 21st-century America, legally married same-sex couples are being singled out and selectively denied fundamental rights by their own federal government."

A recent nationwide poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, paid for by HRC, found that 51 percent of voters oppose DOMA and 34 percent support it.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. In addition, same-sex marriages from anywhere in the world are recognized as marriages in Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and California (if the marriage took place before Proposition 8 passed) even though those states do not let same-sex couples marry.

Majority of Americans support same-sex marriage

Another national poll has found that a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll, released March 18, found that when asked, "Do you think it should be illegal or legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?" 53 percent of adults said "legal" and 44 percent said "illegal."

The random telephone poll quizzed 1,005 people and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Recent CNN and AP polls also found majority support for same-sex marriage.

"Americans have been on a journey of understanding, living up to the American value of treating others as we would all want to be treated, and staying true to our nation's history of upholding the American promise of equality under the law," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry. "When the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was stampeded through in 1996, only 26 percent of Americans supported the freedom to marry. In the 15 years since, that support has more than doubled."

Chad Griffin, board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, said: "The trend captured by today's Washington Post-ABC News poll -- and a variety of other surveys -- is indisputable. The more Americans talk about this issue with one another, the more they come to embrace the idea that all citizens deserve equal rights, including the freedom to marry. As AFER has witnessed in its case to overturn Prop 8, people from all political persuasions and walks of life believe that adults in committed, loving relationships should be able to live their lives free from the government's interference."

Update

On March 16, the San Diego Democratic Club corrected a public statement it issued on March 10 that was reported here. The original statement said that openly lesbian San Diego mayoral candidate and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis had, in last year's California elections, supported Republican candidates for governor and attorney general who vowed to end the state's policy of refusing to defend Proposition 8 in court. The corrected statement says that Dumanis supported the Republican gubernatorial candidate but remained neutral in the attorney general race.

Assistance: Bill Kelley


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