Wednesday's landmark Senate hearing on a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act featured testimony from those who have suffered as a result of the discriminatory 1996 law -- as well as those who see abolishing it as an all-out assault on "traditional" marriage.
Witnesses testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the real, insidious effects of DOMA included an elderly California man forced to sell his home following the death of his husband as well as an LGBT rights attorney who 15 years ago in Hawaii won a key court victory in the first trial concerning marriage rights for same-sex couples.
"Congress can remove this sting, eliminate this pain, end this harm -- by enacting the Respect for Marriage Act, repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and standing up for American values of the pursuit of happiness, personal responsibility, and treating others as you want them to be treated," Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson said in his remarks to the committee.
But opponents equated repeal of DOMA to "asking the whole of society to ignore the unique and demonstrable differences between men and women in parenthood: no mothers, no fathers, just generic parents," as Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel Austin Nimocks put it.
Committee members in attendance during the two-and-a-half-hour hearing -- a majority of whom are Democratic cosponsors of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Respect for Marriage Act -- grilled one anti-marriage equality witness, Focus on the Family senior vice president Tom Minnery, who asserted in his prepared testimony that a 2010 government study proved that opposite-sex parents provide the best environment for raising children.
"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?" Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota asked Minnery of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report.
"I would think that the study, when it cites a nuclear families, would mean a family headed by a husband and wife," Minnery replied.
"It doesn't," Franken retorted to audience laughter. "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."
Ron Wallen, a 77-year-old resident of Indio, Calif., who in March lost his husband, Tom Corrollo, and may lose his home because he does not qualify to receive survivor benefits as a result of DOMA, told the committee, "After a lifetime of being a productive citizen, I am now facing financial chaos. Tom and I worked hard, and together we tried to live out our own version of the American dream. ... And yet, as I face a future alone without my spouse of 58 years, it is hard to believe that it is the American government that is throwing me out of my family home."
Freedom to Marry's Wolfson spoke on a witness panel with Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese as well as marriage equality opponents Nimocks of the Alliance Defense Fund and Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
"What's surprising is how tinny, tired, and empty the arguments were [by antimarriage witnesses]. They've literally got nothing, and everyone knows it," Wolfson said directly following the hearing.
The hearing comes a day after the White House announced that President Obama would endorse the DOMA repeal bill. "The president has long called for a legislative repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people -- our families, friends and neighbors," White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a Tuesday statement.