The reaction to Representative Jerrold
bill that repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been
swift and, in some cases, heated.
Nadler, a Democrat from New York and a
staunch supporter of gay rights, introduced the Respect
for Marriage Act of 2009 this morning at a press event at
House Triangle, an outdoor venue near the Capitol steps. He said the
bill enjoyed the support of 91 co-sponsors in the House.
“The full repeal of DOMA is long
overdue,” Nadler said. “When DOMA was passed in 1996, its full
harm may not have been apparent to all Members of Congress because
same-sex couples were not yet able to marry. It was a so-called
‘defense’ against a hypothetical harm. This made it easy for our
opponents to demonize gay and lesbian families. Now, in 2009, we
have tens of thousands of married same-sex couples in this country,
living openly, raising families and paying taxes in states that have
granted them the right to marry, and it has become abundantly clear
that, while the sky has not fallen on the institution of marriage, as
DOMA supporters had claimed, DOMA is causing these couples concrete
and lasting harm. Discrimination against committed couples and
stable families is terrible federal policy. But, with a President
who is committed to repealing DOMA and a broad, diverse coalition of
Americans on our side, we now have a real opportunity to remove from
the books this obnoxious and ugly law.”
Two of the men directly involved in the
passage of DOMA 13 years ago came out in favor of repeal. Former
President Bill Clinton, who signed the bill into law, and former
Georgia Representative Bob Barr, the law's author, both said they
support Nadler's bill.
“When the Defense of Marriage Act was
passed gay couples could not marry anywhere in the United States or
the world for that matter,” Clinton said. “Thirteen years later,
the fabric of our country has changed, and so should this policy.”
The bill does not repeal DOMA entirely.
Instead it focuses on Section 3 of the law, which defines marriage
as a heterosexual union for the federal government, and leaves
untouched the law's provisions that allows states to ignore legal gay
marriages performed outside their borders. But the bill would
recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples living in states
that have outlawed the institution – so long as the couple married
in a state where it is legal for gay couples to marry. Currently,
only five states have legalized gay marriage: Connecticut, Iowa,
Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Maine lawmakers approved a
gay marriage law in the spring, but a voter-initiated referendum will
decide its fate this fall. Likely to follow suit are New York, New
Jersey and the District of Columbia.
Gay and lesbian couples living in a
state where gay marriage is legal would receive all the federal and
state benefits of marriage, while those living in states that do not
recognize the practice would only receive federal benefits such as
Social Security and pensions.
“Homosexual activists and their
congressional supporters are making the outrageous claim that
protecting marriage is a form of discrimination,” Shari Rendall,
director of legislation for the conservative group Concerned Women
for America (CWA), said in a statement. “But the reverse is true –
failing to protect marriage and overturning marriage laws will result
in reverse discrimination against people who believe that marriage is
between one man and one woman.”
The National Organization for Marriage,
the nation's most vociferous opponent of gay marriage, immediately
attacked the bill.
“We've known this day would come,”
Brian Brown, the group's president, said in an urgent alert to
“And we're ready. Already, we are
more than 500,000 strong as Americans from every walk of life have
joined our ranks to stand firm against radical efforts to force
same-sex marriage in every state,” he added.
Nadler was joined at the podium by an
army of gay leaders and allies.
Representative Mike Quigley, a Democrat
from Illinois, called himself a conservative for supporting the bill.
“Today, in supporting this act, I am
an arch conservative. Why is that? Because when you think about it,
what have the conservatives said for all time about government's
role? That government's role is to stay out of people's personal
lives,” he said.
“Opponents of the repeal are often
ironically the same people who oppose big government,” Quigley
later added in a statement released after the event. “But what's
bigger, or frankly more appalling, than a government that tells you
who you can love?”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human
Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocate, said DOMA
“Today thousands of couples are
married,” he told reporters. “Today, several states recognize
our equality. Yet we remain strangers under federal law. The harm
Openly gay legislators Wisconsin
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Colorado Congressman Jared Polis also
spoke at the event.
“In support of families throughout
the nation, our legislation will extend to same-sex, legally married
couples the same federal rights and recognition now offered to
heterosexual married couples, nothing more, nothing less,” said
Not present, however, was Massachusetts
Representative Barney Frank, the nation's most powerful openly gay
elected official. Earlier, Frank said he disagreed with the timing
of the legislation, adding that passage was undoable politically.
“It's not anything that's achievable
in the near term,” Frank told gay weekly The
“I think getting [the Employment
Non-Discrimination Act], a repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' and
full domestic partner benefits for federal employees will take up all
of what we can do and maybe more in this Congress.”