Originally published on Advocate.com 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e-mail, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said: “The President has long said that DOMA is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress.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.
RMA Intro Remarks
March 16, 2011
My name is Edie Windsor and I am here today as a person whose life has been adversely impacted by DOMA, as have the lives of so many others.
My late spouse, Thea Spyer, and I lived together and loved each other for more than four decades. We began dating in 1965, became engaged with a circular diamond brooch in 1967, and stayed engaged for 40 years, in- love- with and caring for each other, sharing all the joys and sorrows that came our way.
During those years, as any couple does, we lived through good times — filled with jobs that we loved, great friends and dancing — oh we danced. And we also lived through the vicissitudes of aging and illness.
In 1977, Thea was diagnosed with Chronic Progressive Multiple Sclerosis — first, one cane, then two crutches, wheelchairs and quadriplegia. Fortunately, the MS only affected Thea's body, not her brilliant mind or her cognition.
In 1996, I had to have coronary bypass surgery. And still we lived and enjoyed our life together.
In 2007, when Thea was given a year-to-live-medical-prognosis, we realized that we were running out of time and decided to get married.
In those 40-some years, we never thought of ourselves as single, so what could be different? It didn’t occur to us that people would see us differently as a legally married couple. But they did.
When our wedding announcement ran in the New York Times, we heard from literally hundreds of people from every stage of our lives — playmates and schoolmates, colleagues, friends and relatives, pouring out love and congratulations because we were married!
Marriage is an institution that means so much to so many. It represents the ultimate expression of love and commitment between two people — and everyone understands that. In the whole world, everyone understands that!
When Thea passed away two years ago, I was overcome with grief. Within a month, I was hospitalized with a heart attack.
In the midst of this, I had to spend countless hours defending our marriage to the federal government.
Because of DOMA, I was forced to pay $363,000 in federal estate tax that I would not have had to pay had I been married to a man. While New York state considered us married, the federal government taxed what I had inherited from Thea as though we were strangers. I am 81 years old and live on a fixed income, and paying that tax was not easy for me.
Because of my overwhelming sense of the unfairness and injustice of this, I decided to bring a lawsuit in federal court in New York challenging DOMA as unconstitutional and seeking the return of the tax I was forced to pay as a result of DOMA.
DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, excludes same-sex couples from fully participating in marriage and that is unfair. And it excludes gay people from the ability to protect their spouse when one of them dies and that is unfair. All marriages should be treated equally in the eyes of the law.
President Obama and the Department of Justice recently agreed with the merits of my lawsuit and announced that they would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA. House Speaker Boehner, however, disagrees and has said that he will retain counsel to defend it. So it looks right now like my legal fight is far from over.
I understand that the legislation being introduced by my Congressman Jerry Nadler and others today would accomplish the same result by repealing DOMA in the legislature. Since I am not young and may not have enough time left to fight, any and all roads that lead to the end of DOMA as soon as possible have my full and unequivocal support.