- Health, Wellness & Sports
- Equality Directory
WASHINGTON – Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said today that there would be a markup on the Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Leahy, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said the markup would occur next month.
The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) on March 16 of this year.
DOMA, which was enacted in 1996, deprives legally married same-sex couples of federal respect for their marriage, meaning that they are denied the more than a thousand protections that the federal government accords all other married couples – including Social Security survivor benefits, tax fairness, access to health coverage and recognition of family ties for immigration purposes.
Currently, DOMA is being challenged in several court cases around the country, and was held unconstitutional last year by a federal judge appointed by President Richard M. Nixon.
Leahy’s announcement was cheered by advocates of equal rights.
The Human Rights Campaign praised Leahy’s decision and noted that DOMA bans the federal government from recognizing legally married same-sex couples and denies loving and committed families equal benefits and equal dignity.
“This markup is an incredible step toward ending federal marriage discrimination that causes real harm to American families,” outgoing HRC President Joe Solmonese said. “Chairman Leahy and Senator Feinstein have been leaders in this fight and we applaud them for continuing the momentum against this unjust law.”
The Respect for Marriage Act had a hearing before the committee in July where Solmonese testified. It was the first time that DOMA had a hearing in Congress since its enactment 15 years ago and this markup represents another historic first.
“The federal government shouldn’t be in the business of picking which marriages it likes and which it doesn’t, but that’s exactly what DOMA does,” Solmonese said. “The reality of DOMA is heart-wrenching discrimination against loving families.”
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, also applauded the move.
“Thousands of loving and committed couples have gotten married in New York and other states since the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act in July, and all of them are now enduring direct harms because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and its double standard,” Wolfson said. “It is time for Congress to repeal DOMA's discrimination, and we are pleased that Senator Leahy is moving the Respect for Marriage Act forward.”
Freedom to Marry has played a leading role in boosting the number of co-sponsors on the bill. From its introduction, cosponsors on the Senate version have grown from 18 to 29 and on the House version, from 108 to 128, which already surpasses last year’s total of 120.
In July, Wolfson testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first-ever hearing on repealing DOMA, calling on Congress to put an end to the discriminatory law and return the federal government to its appropriate role of respecting marriages performed in the states.
In addition, Ron Wallen testified about the harm DOMA has inflicted on him after the death of his spouse. Wallen married his partner of 58 years, Tom Carrollo, in California before the freedom to marry was stripped away by Proposition 8. Carrollo died in March 2011. Because DOMA denies him access to the Social Security Survivor benefit, Wallen can no longer afford to live in the home he shared with his husband and, as a result, he is rushing to sell the home.
DOMA prevents any of the over 1,100 federal rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage from being afforded to legally married same-sex couples. These include Social Security survivor benefits, federal employee health benefits for spouses, protections against spouses losing their homes in cases of severe medical emergencies, the right to sponsor a foreign born partner for immigration, the guarantee of family and medical leave and the ability to file joint tax returns, among many others. 51% of voters oppose DOMA while only 34% favor it, according to a March 2011 poll by HRC and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.
Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of the Courage Campaign, also saluted the decision.
"DOMA enshrines second-class citizenship for millions in a first-class nation," Jacobs said. "We are pleased that at long last the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the bill to end DOMA. We thank Sens. Leahy and Feinstein for leading with conviction on this bill."
The Courage Campaign, a grassroots organizing network, launched a grassroots effort to support the Respect for Marriage Act.
Since March, Courage Campaign members have used direct contact, petitions and social media to urge seven senators to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act. The Courage Campaign targeted Sens. Klobuchar, Kohl, Udall of New Mexico, Bingaman and Mikulski and asked them to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act, all with success.
Sen. Feinstein also held a conference call with Courage Campaign’s DOMA field captains (of which there are 75 in 43 states) earlier this year to thank them for their hard work and discuss next steps in the campaign. Courage Campaign is currently part of state-based coalitions urging Sens. Menendez, Reed and Casey to do the right thing and support DOMA repeal. There are now 30 Senators who publicly sponsor or co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act, a record level, and halfway to the 60 that are needed to overcome a filibuster. The full list can be found HERE.
In July, over 25,000 Courage members petitioned President Obama to formally endorse the Respect for Marriage Act. The day before the historic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced the White House's unprecedented endorsement of the bill, in a rare move usually reserved only for legislation that has passed one house of Congress. This move underscores the urgency with which DOMA must be repealed.