Defense of Marriage Act Faces Critics in Congressional Hearing
The march towards national marriage equality advanced this week as the Senate Judiciary Committee heard arguments on a bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The 1996 law, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, was passed at a time when 75% of the country approved of restricting the right of LGBT Americans to marry their partners.
What a difference fifteen years can make.
At Wednesday’s hearing, lawmakers repeatedly highlighted the struggles that DOMA has imposed on same-sex couples. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a leader in the Civil Rights movement, likened his childhood in a segregated South to the plight faced by LGBT Americans today.
“The Defense of Marriage Act is a stain on our democracy,” said Lewis. “It reminds me of another dark time in our nation's history, the many years when states passed laws banning blacks and whites from marrying. When people used to ask Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about interracial marriage, he would say, ‘Races do not fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married.’ Marriage is a basic human right.”
Lewis’ sentiments were echoed by Senate Democrats.
The Defense of Marriage Act creates a “tier of second-class families,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Senator Coons (D-DE) singled out opponents of same-sex marriage who claim it threatens heterosexual relationships: “I don’t know about my colleagues, but my wedding ring and my marriage didn't magically dissolve or disappear just because New York passed a same-sex marriage bill last month.” Senators Whitehouse (D-RI), Schumer (D-NY), Durbin (D-IL) and Vermont resident Susan Murray offered additional testimony, which was live-tweeted by Campus Progress’ own Sam Menefee-Libey.
Opponents of same-sex marriage included Focus on the Family’s Thomas Minnery, who claimed that a 2010 Department of Health and Human Services study found that children are healthier and more successful when raised by married heterosexual parents. But Senator Al Franken (D-MN) followed up his testimony by introducing the study into the record and pointing out that it focused on children raised in “nuclear families,” making no mention of sexual orientation. “I frankly don't really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies this way,” Franken told Minnery.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Representative Steve King (R-IA) were the only elected officials to speak in defense of the law.
The day’s testimonies were notably dominated by older, white Americans, excluding the voices of a considerable portion of the nation’s LGBT community. But the overall hearing was a positive one for LGBT advocates, and their case was bolstered by President Obama’s recent announcement that he will put his weight the Defense of Marriage Act’s repeal.