Two Tea Party senators introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate Thursday that looks to invalidate the federal benefits afforded to legally married same-sex couples when such couples cross into a state that doesn't embrace marriage equality.
Texas Republican Ted Cruz and Utah Republican Mike Lee introduced the State Marriage Defense Act Thursday, ironically at nearly the same time a federal judge declared Virginia's state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Cruz and Lee's bill — a companion version of legislation introduced by another Texas Republican in the House last month — claims to "[respect] the definition of marriage held by the people of each state and [protect] states from the federal government's effort to force any other definition upon them."
The legislation would effectively declare that a state's laws regarding who can and cannot be legally married should trump the federal government's recognition of marriages between same-sex couples, and would revoke the federal rights granted to those couples when the family enters a state without marriage equality. So a gay couple married in New York would be considered legal strangers the moment they set foot in Florida for a vacation and would have no legal right, for instance, to visit each other in the hospital in the case of an emergency.
The bill appears to be an effort to circumvent the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in U.S. v. Windsor last year, which found the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that kept the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages that were legal where they were performed was unconstitutional. As a result of that ruling, numerous federal agencies have announced that they would extend the more than 1,000 rights granted to married spouses to legally married same-sex couples. Last week U.S. attorney general Eric Holder announced that the federal government will extend those benefits to same-sex couples whose marriage was legal in the state where it was performed, regardless of where the couple resides.
In a statement published on Cruz's official website, the Texas lawmaker laments what he calls the Obama administration's "agenda to force same-sex marriage," which he contends has led to "the rise of inconsistencies among several federal agencies" in determining which couples are eligible for what benefits.
"The State Marriage Defense Act will correct this inconsistency," contends Cruz, "and protect states from an out of control administration that is seeking to force same sex marriage upon states that define marriage as the union between one man and one woman."
Cruz couches his introduction of the bill in his support for what he calls "traditional marriage. "Under President Obama, the federal government has tried to re-define marriage, and to undermine the constitutional authority of each state to define marriage consistent with the values of its citizens," said Cruz in a statement accompanying the announcement. "The Obama Administration should not be trying to force gay marriage on all 50 states. We should respect the states, and the definition of marriage should be left to democratically elected legislatures, not dictated from Washington. This bill will safeguard the ability of states to preserve traditional marriage for its residents."