Repeal of DOMA should be a priority for Colorado senators
When the Senate returns to work in September, quickly passing the Respect for Marriage Act should be a priority.
The legislation is designed to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, which prohibits the government from recognizing same-sex marriages and nullifies the constitutional provision that states give “full faith and credit” to each other’s laws.
The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the discriminatory policies of DOMA and the same federal benefits given to heterosexual married partners would be available to same-sex married couples and their dependents.
The bill would place no requirements on states to recognize same-sex marriages.
On Sept. 21, the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays will take effect. As of that date, the military will have a responsibility to fully integrate same-sex families into the military, including providing them with the same benefits as other married couples.
At the same time, the DOMA legal definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman seems to make it impossible for the military to recognize homosexual marriages — a Catch 22 that only Congress or the courts can rectify.
If the Senate does not act, it is almost certain that a court will sort things out by leveling the playing field. It is hard to imagine the plaintiffs would not win their case, but valuable time and needed funds would be wasted in the process.
Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, filed a case in 2009 claiming DOMA is unconstitutional as it infringes on the sovereign right of states to treat their legally married couples equally, regardless of gender.
In February, President Obama said DOMA was unconstitutional and instructed the Department of Justice to no longer defend it in court.
Private citizens married in states where same-sex marriage is permitted have also sued the government for discrimination over benefits.
“Full faith and credit” and “equal treatment under the law” offer sound constitutional reasons for repealing DOMA.
But a more compelling reason for the national legislature to solve the problem rather than shifting it to the courts is simply to serve justice.
These American servicemen and women deserve their freedom to serve openly as gay or lesbian soldiers, sailors or flyers, and to be recognized by a congressional act that honors their past and future service.
It would be tragic to even temporarily delay the benefits gay and lesbian service members are due because Congress failed to repeal a bad law.
Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both cosponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, should urge Senate leadership to bring this legislation to a timely vote in the Senate, before the Sept. 23 deadline.
Hearings held in the Senate Judiciary Committee were praised by People for the American Way for the “powerful and profound” testimony of civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis. Calling DOMA a “stain on our democracy,” Lewis linked repeal of DOMA directly to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, as he called for its repeal.
Testimony was also given on the psychological and financial hardships of children of same sex-marriages who are denied the legal recognition and benefits normally accorded to married couples.
Republican senators apparently were either indifferent to the hearings or disinclined to participate. According to PFAW, only Sens. Orin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa “were willing to show up at the hearing.”
Hatch and Grassley apparently left defending DOMA in the hands of such fringe witnesses as the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Focus on the Family. They did poorly.
Colorado Sen. Bennet said, in a statement, “Married same-sex couples deserve the same federal marriage benefits that my wife and I enjoy. No married couples should be denied these marriage benefits, and they should not have to worry that their spouses will be denied Social Security surviving spouse benefits or equal family health benefits.”
Udall, from his position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was particularly instrumental in the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
As co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, Udall and Bennet should urge the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act quickly, so there is no ambivalence when legally married gay and lesbian troops apply for benefits for their partners and children.