Dems Take on DOMA
March 16 2011 7:15 AM ET
Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday pushed for repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act with a bill that faces an uphill battle in the current Congress and has yet to attract any Republican support.
In a Wednesday press conference, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said the bill “would strike DOMA in its entirety” and “ensure the protections of our government for married couples are finally afforded to all.”
Feinstein, who voted against DOMA in 1996, is joined by 18 cosponsors of the Senate bill — some of whom originally voted in favor of DOMA when it was passed 15 years ago. The House version of the Respect for Marriage Act was reintroduced Wednesday by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who spoke at a press conference along with Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and the House’s four openly gay representatives: Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Jared Polis of Colorado, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
“When Congress passed DOMA in 1996, it was not possible for a gay or lesbian couple to marry anywhere in the world,” Nadler said. “Today, tens of thousands of gay and lesbian couples are married. Far from harming the institution of marriage, these couples have embraced this time-honored tradition and the serious legal duties of civil marriage.”
Barring legislative repeal or judicial relief, Feinstein said the Obama administration would be compelled to continue enforcing DOMA; Attorney General Eric Holder announced last month that the Justice Department would no longer defend Section 3 of the law, which defines marriage to the exclusion of legally married gay couples. “Essentially it’s the law of the land,” Feinstein said. “And we are a government of law.”
In a Wednesday e-mail, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said: “The President has long said that DOMA is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress. We welcome the introduction of bills that would legislatively repeal DOMA, and look forward to working with lawmakers to achieve that goal.”
But repealing DOMA as House leadership prepares to defend the law in court poses a great challenge, one that Senator Chris Coons of Delaware acknowledged. “This is not the first time that a repeal of DOMA has been introduced,” Coons said. “But I hope that it will be the last. … The American people have had enough of government-sanctioned discrimination. If we don’t get it done in this congress, then we’ll try again in the 113th [congress].”
Feinstein and senate colleagues cosponsoring the bill were joined Wednesday by two married couples — Robert and Jon Cooper of New York, and Jeanne Rizzo and Pali Cooper of California, who were married in the state during the brief window of time when it was legal to do so before voters passed Proposition 8.
While lawmakers pointed to the lack of parity in federal taxes and Social Security spousal benefits as a result of DOMA, Rizzo, president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund, also spoke of other tangible injustices married gay and lesbian couples face.
Upon returning from a honeymoon in Italy, Rizzo and Cooper were told by a U.S. customs agent to enter into two separate lines. "We said, 'We’re legally married.' And he said, 'Not in the United States of America,'" Rizzo said. "Now it was somewhat dispassionate, but probably a little bit louder than it needed to be.”
Of marriage equality, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand said, "Every loving couple in America deserves this right, and no politican should stand in the way."
After the jump, full remarks from Edie Windsor, plaintiff in the DOMA suit Windsor v. United States of America whose wife, Thea Spyer, died in 2009.
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