Judiciary committee passes measure to repeal DOMA

Sponsor acknowledges votes aren’t there yet to get Respect for Marriage Act approved by Senate

Feinstein.Diane

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Nov. 10, voted to recommend passage of a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

The bill is the Respect for Marriage Act. Thursday’s 10-to-8 vote along partisan lines had been originally scheduled for Nov. 3 but was postponed a week at the request of Republicans on the committee.

Republican Charles Grassley criticized Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, for putting the bill on the committee’s agenda, saying the committee should, instead, be taking up “bills that can pass” and which address the country’s financial problems.

Grassley said the measure “lacks the votes to pass the Senate” and that, even if it does pass the Senate, “it will not be taken up in the House,” which is controlled by Republicans.

Grassley repeatedly referred to the measure as the “Restoration of Marriage Act,” instead of the “Respect for Marriage,” and said it would not accomplish “restoration of any rights,” but rather create “new rights that same-sex couples have never had under federal law.

He also said there is a “universal religious view” that marriage is “about procreation and child-bearing.”

“To me, this debate is about stable families, good environments for raising children, and religious belief,” said Grassley. “It is not about discriminating against anyone. No society has limited marriage to heterosexual couples because of a desire to create second-class families.”

He rebuffed the argument of many, including the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that the fight to repeal DOMA is reminiscent of the fight to repeal laws that barred interracial marriages. Quoting Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Grassley said such comparisons can be “deeply offensive” to African-Americans.

Log Cabin Republicans President R. Clarke Cooper offered some support for Grassley’s concerns about “priorities,” but said the committee debate was “a principled discussion about the meaning of federalism, the priorities of our nation in a challenging time, and what marriage means in America today.”

Feinstein noted in her remarks Thursday that a large group of corporations filed a legal brief recently highlighting the ways DOMA burdens them with red tape and requires they treat employees differently if they are gay.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman, issued a statement saying, “President Obama applauds today’s vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Respect for Marriage Act, which would provide a legislative repeal of the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act.’ The president has long believed that DOMA is discriminatory and has called for its repeal.

“We should all work towards taking this law off the books. The federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections afforded to straight couples,” the statement said.

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, noted that support for the Respect for Marriage Act has grown to 31 co-sponsors in the Senate and 133 in the House.

“The historic growth in support among lawmakers for repealing DOMA mirrors the growth in public support for the freedom to marry to what is now a solid majority nationwide,” said Wolfson.

Recent polling has begun to show a consistent trend in public opinion supporting the right of same-sex couples to get married. A survey of 1,001 adults nationwide by ABC and the Washington Post in July found 51 percent “think it should be legal for gay and lesbians couples to get married.”

Supporters of the legislation will need 60 votes to overcome what will almost certainly be a filibuster of the legislation should Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bring it to the floor. Politico.com noted that Feinstein acknowledged to reporters after the hearing that the bill does not have those 60 votes and that she has not spoken to Reid about the bill.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Senate hearing on DOMA repeal is set

‘Respect for Marriage Act’ has 27 co-sponsors so far, all Democrats

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled Wednesday, July 20, at 10 a.m. to hear testimony on a bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The specific bill in question is the “Respect for Marriage Act” (S. 598), introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for herself and Sens. Kirstein Gillibrand, D-NY, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced last week he would hold a hearing on the bill — the first Congressional hearing on a proposal to repeal DOMA.

The Respect for Marriage Act would also stipulate that, “for the purposes of any federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into. …”

It also calls for recognition of marriages licensed in other countries.

The bill currently has 27 co-sponsors, including Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Durbin, D-Ill and John Kerry, D-Mass.

No Republicans have yet co-sponsored the bill.

Live webcasts of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings can be viewed at the committee’s website: judiciary.senate.gov.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Texas Democrats Gene Green, Henry Cuellar support anti-gay amendment

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

Rep. Gene Green

1. Two Democratic congressman from Texas were among those who voted in favor of an anti-gay amendment on the House floor Thursday. The amendment to a Defense appropriations bill, which passed 248-175, reaffirms the Defense of Marriage Act by prohibiting the Pentagon from spending funds in violation of DOMA. The Human Rights Campaign says the amendment is “unnecessary” and called on the Senate “to reject the House’s return to using LGBT Americans as a wedge issue.” All but five Republicans voted in favor of the amendment by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., while all but 19 Democrats voted against it. Two of those 19 Democrats were Rep. Gene Green (Houston, Baytown) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (San Antonio, Laredo, Seguin).

2. In other DOMA-related news, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever hearing on legislation that would repeal the 15-year-old anti-gay law “in the coming weeks,” according to an aide for committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, one of the sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act. Another sponsor, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, said this in response to news that the bill will get a hearing: “If Democrats and Republicans can come together to do what’s right in New York, I know we can do the same in Congress to do what’s right for all of America. Now is the time to act on the federal level.”

3. Here’s another reason why Texas Gov. Rick Perry needs to hurry up and enter the GOP presidential race: Candidates have only until Aug. 1 to sign an anti-gay Iowa group’s pledge called, “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family.” Candidates must sign the pledge to earn an endorsement from the group in the key primary state. Among other things, the pledge says that homosexuality is a choice, that homosexuality is akin to polygamy, and that homosexuality represents a public health risk. Thus far, the only candidate’s who’s signed the pledge — which also calls for banning all forms of pornography — is Michele Bachmann, but we’re pretty sure Perry can’t wait to join her.

—  John Wright

Bills to repeal DOMA introduced in House, Senate

Legislation seeking to overturn 1996 law has little chance of passage, but it arrives to a changing climate on same-sex marriage

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

When U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in 2009, he conceded there was little chance for passage in the 111th Congress. Absent from the 102 co-sponsors that year was Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the most veteran and influential of the three openly gay members of Congress. He said the bill had “zero” chance of passage. Also missing was then-House Speaker Nancy Peolsi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as co-sponsors, and there was no companion bill in the Senate.

Clearly, something’s changed.

When Nadler reintroduced his bill to the 112th Congress this morning, Frank, Pelosi, and Hoyer were among its 108 co-sponsors.

And the Nadler bill this year is joined by a first-ever companion bill in the Senate, introduced today by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Christopher Coons of Delaware, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

What has not changed is the content of the legislation. The new Respect for Marriage Act is “precisely the same” as the last one, noted Nadler spokesman Ilan Kayatsky.

The measures seek to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA, enacted in 1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing the legally secured marriages of same-sex couples and provides for states to ignore those marriages as well.

And there is still little likelihood of passage — at least in the Republican-controlled House.

But the legislation arrives to a political climate concerning same-sex marriage that is clearly changing.

The latest independent poll, completed March 1 and involving 1,504 adults nationally, shows –once again— a new high in support for allowing gays to marry. While 46 percent told the Pew Research Center they oppose allowing gays to marry, 45 percent said they favor doing so –a two-point jump in the space of six months. (Nine percent said they were unsure. The margin of error was plus or minus three points.)

A poll sponsored last week by the Human Rights Campaign found that 51 percent oppose DOMA, 34 percent favor it, and 15 percent had no opinion. When asked whether legally married gay couples should be able to obtain specific federal benefits provided to straight couples, 60 percent supported gay spouses being able to obtain Social Security benefits and 58 percent supported health coverage for federal employees’ same-sex spouses.

The HRC poll gave its respondents — 800 registered voters nationwide — two statements and asked which came closer to their point of view about the House decision to defend DOMA in federal court. One choice was: the move diverts taxpayer money to a divisive issue at a time Congress should be focusing on creating jobs and cutting the deficit. The other choice was that Congress was forced to defend the law after President Obama’s administration “failed to do so.” Fifty-four percent chose the former, and 32 percent chose the latter. (The remainder said Neither, Both, or did not respond.)

In a related development, bills were introduced to both chambers last Thursday, March 10, seeking to enable coverage for domestic partners under COBRA.

COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is the federal law that requires group insurance plans to enable employees and their families to continue paying for their health coverage for a period of time following the loss or change in employment status.

In the Senate, the Equal Access to COBRA Act (S. 563) was re-introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and has no co-sponsors; in the House, HR 1028 was introduced for the first time, by Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, with 45 co-sponsors.

“Current federal laws related to COBRA coverage do not apply to domestic partners or same-sex spouses — even at companies that offer health coverage to domestic partners of employees,” according to a press statement from Boxer’s office. The proposed law, said the statement, would apply to companies that already offer health coverage to domestic partners and their children.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Lawmakers to file DOMA repeal Wednesday

Federal District Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts has ruled — in two separate cases, no less — that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and the Justice Department, under his administration, will no longer defend it in court.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has said that the House of Representatives will defend DOMA in court since the Obama administration won’t.

And now, a group of five U.S. senators is set to introduce legislation to repeal DOMA.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Christopher Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut will officially announce their DOMA repeal bill in a press conference at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday in the Senate Office Building.

Of course, with Republicans in charge of the House already having announced their plans to defend DOMA in court, and a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, it’s not likely that Obama will get to keep his campaign promise this year. Still, it’s nice to know DOMA repeal is still on the agenda.

—  admin