Fifteen years after Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, the U.S. Senate finally has an official record of why the legislation was indeed a mistake — even if some witnesses asserted in Wednesday’s hearing (with questionable supporting evidence) that the federal government has a vested interest in discriminating against married same-sex couples.
Here’s a sampling of the powerful testimony in support of DOMA repeal submitted for the hearing — as well as the flimsy opposition. —Andrew Harmon
Evan Wolfson, cofounder and president, Freedom to Marry:
"Why is the repeal of DOMA so important for same-sex couples and their families? Because marriage matters. Gay and lesbian couples want the freedom to marry for the same mix of reasons as other couples — reasons that are emotional as well as economic, practical as well as personal, social as well as spiritual, and reasons that resonate in law as they do in love. Like nongay people, gay people want to be able to protect themselves and their families, and marriage provides literally thousands of protections and supports at the federal and state level.
"Most profoundly, gay people seek to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and to protect their families. They share similar values to those that other couples hold — like the importance of family and helping out their neighbors; they share similar worries — like making ends meet or the possibility of losing a job; and they share similar hopes and dreams — like finding that special someone to grow old with, and standing in front of friends and family to make a lifetime commitment. "
Susan Murray, a Vermont attorney who testified about her marriage as well as her clients who inequities faced by her same-sex couples clients legally married in the state:
"My parents taught us right from wrong; they taught us to treat others with kindness; and they taught us to be fair, and to speak up for what’s right. My parents were devoted to their kids, and to helping us become successful, well-adjusted adults. They were married for 51 years before my dad died, six years ago.
"That was my model for a successful marriage, and growing up, that was the kind of marriage I aspired to have in my own life. So when I realized, as a young adult, that I was gay, I despaired of ever having a life, and a love, like that of my parents.
"But then I met a woman named Karen Hibbard — and I count myself blessed to have found love in my life. She’s a physician assistant who works in emergency walk-in care at our local hospital, stitching people up and fixing their broken bones and generally helping them get the care they need. ...
"Karen and I have built a life together, and are as committed to one another as my parents were to each other. And thanks to the legislature of the state of Vermont, we’re now officially, legally married. Unfortunately, because of DOMA, the federal government doesn’t’ recognize our legal marriage, so Karen and I don’t have access to the same federal protections that my parents had."
Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund:
"Without question, the overwhelming majority of people on both sides of this debate are good and decent Americans, coming from all walks of life, all political parties, all races and creeds. But humanity remains unchanged — a collection of men and women."
Tom Minnery, senior vice president, Focus on the Family:
"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains in its new and exhaustive report, ‘Family Structure and Children’s Health in the United States: Findings From the National Health Interview Survey, 2001-2007,’ that children living with their own married biological or adoptive mothers and fathers were generally healthier and happier, had better access to health care, less likely to suffer mild or severe emotional problems, did better in school, were protected from physical, emotional and sexual abuse and almost never live in poverty, compared with children in any other family form."
Note: Minnery’s assertions, allegedly based on the HHS study, were challenged by Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. The exchange in the hearing:
FRANKEN: “Isn’t it true, Mr. Minnery, that a married, same-sex couple that has had or adopted kids would fall under the definition of a ‘nuclear family’ in the study that you cite?”
MINNERY: “I would think that the study, when it cites a nuclear families, would mean a family headed by a husband and wife.”
FRANKEN: “It doesn’t. The study defines a nuclear family as one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another, and are each biological or adoptive parents to all the children in the family. And I frankly don’t really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you’re reading studies these ways.”
Edward Whelan, president, Ethics and Public Policy Center:
“The principles invoked by advocates of same-sex marriage in their ongoing attack on traditional marriage clearly threaten to pave the way for polygamous and other polyamorous unions, especially via the judicial invention of a state constitutional right to polyamory. If the male-female nature of traditional marriage can be dismissed as an artifact and its inherent link to procreation denied, then surely the distinction between a marriage of two persons and a marriage of three or more is all the more arbitrary and irrational."
Ron Wallen, who testified about losing his house in Indio, Calif., after the death of his husband because he has no access to Social Security survivor benefits:
"The survivor’s benefit would have done for me what it does for every other surviving spouse in America — ease the pain of the loss, help during a very difficult transition, and allow time to make decisions and plan for my future alone. It is devastating to know that any married couple in the U.S. regardless of how long they were married, can depend on the survivor’s benefit. Yet, I could not — after 58 years with my spouse — simply because we were two married men. This is unfair and unjust."
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign:
"DOMA does not just harm gay and lesbian couples. It hurts all of those who share in their day-to-day struggles under this discriminatory law. First and foremost, it hurts the children of same-sex couples, who suffer from financial instability created for their parents by DOMA’s discrimination. But this discriminatory law burdens other children as well, namely LGBT youth, who see the federal government continue to formally disrespect and discriminate against their community. DOMA tells them, in no uncertain terms, that they cannot be full and equal citizens of their country."