Senate committee holds 1st-ever hearing on repealing DOMA

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a legendary civil rights activist, led off today’s historic hearing to discuss repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, likening it to laws decades ago that requires separate water fountains and restrooms for “whites” and “coloreds.”

“I find it unbelievable in the year 2011,” said Lewis, “that there is still a need to hold hearings and debates about whether a human being should be able to marry the person they love.”

But there was a hearing, and there was debate.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, came well prepared to do battle, bringing in a full complement of his allowed witnesses, minus one whom he said was afraid to testify against repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for fear of being harassed.

Photo by Jamie McGonnigal/EqualityPhotography.com

But none of the committee’s other Republican members — who include John Cornyn of Texas — showed up to ask questions, and Democratic senators who support the Respect of Marriage Act (SB 598), the bill to repeal DOMA, were also well prepared.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., called DOMA an “immoral and discriminatory” law and he challenged Grassley’s chief witness, an official with the mammoth Focus on the Family group. (Watch video from ThinkProgress above.) The witness, Thomas Minnery, claimed a federal study found that children raised by a male-female married couple are happier and healthier than children raised by other families.

“I checked the study out,” said Franken, referring to a 2010 study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “It doesn’t say what you said it does,” said Franken. The hearing room erupted in laughter. “It says ‘nuclear family,’ not opposite-sex married families, are associated with those outcomes.”

Minnery said he understood “nuclear family” to mean heterosexual.

“It doesn’t,” said Franken, bluntly. “It says, ‘Two parents who are married to one another and are the adopted or biological’ parents of their children. I don’t know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies these ways.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., opened the hearing by saying he called it to “assess the impact” of the law on American families. He said the 1996 law “goes well beyond the harm to a family’s dignity,” harming it economically, health-wise, and in other ways.

Several of Leahy’s seven witnesses provided personal, often dramatic, stories to illustrate those harms. Ron Wallen, a 77-year-old man from Indio, Calif., said his life was thrown into “financial chaos” after his life partner for 58 years succumbed after a long illness. Because he was not eligible to receive his same-sex spouse’s Social Security benefits and pension, said Wallen, his household income dropped from $3,050 per month to $900 per month.

Susan Murray, an attorney who help usher in Vermont’s landmark civil union law and who represents numerous same-sex couples, said many people simply did not understand what a civil union was. And she said she has found that many corporations believe DOMA prevents them from providing equal benefits to their employees.

“Companies think the law allows them to discriminate,” said Murray.

Andrew Sorbo, a history teacher in Catholic schools in Connecticut, talked about “always having to use the pronoun ‘I’” in his classroom.

“I could not say, ‘We are going on vacation,’ because the next question would be, ‘Who is the other person?’” said Sorbo.

“DOMA,” he said, “is an insult to our dignity and our sense of equality.” He said he was “appalled and baffled” by the fact that those in Congress who oppose same-sex marriage “can’t understand how they are the philosophical descendants of those who defended slavery, who defended the laws against mixed race couples, and who defended the laws that allowed the separate but equal statutes that Rep. Lewis spoke of.”

The mainstream media gave some attention this week to a statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, during a routine briefing on Tuesday, that President Obama supports the Respect for Marriage Act.

Carney, in response to a question, said Obama “has long called for a legislative repeal” of DOMA.

“He is proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act … which would take DOMA off the books once and for all,” said Carney.

Numerous LGBT groups issued statements, applauding the statement from Carney that the president supports the Respect of Marriage Act. They consider Obama’s support for the repeal measure specifically to be a significant step forward in his position.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, a spokesman for Obama said he’s supported the repeal of DOMA since 2004. But after he became president, his Department of Justice initially mounted a vigorous defense of the law in courts, arguing, among other things, “DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of federal benefits.”

After considerable outrage from the LGBT community, the DOJ softened its arguments in court briefs. And then, in a dramatic announcement in February of this year, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he and President Obama believe DOMA is unconstitutional and that laws disfavoring LGBT people should have to pass the strictest form of judicial scrutiny.

Rep. Lewis seemed to have been referring to President Obama when, in his remarks, he chastised those who are “comfortable sitting on the sidelines” and called on “elected officials … to lead, to be the headlights, not taillights.”

Ranking minority member Grassley was the only Republican senator to comment and ask questions during the hearing, saying — at times with the vigor of a preacher – that DOMA is “not an expression of dislike for gay and lesbian people.” He and other opponents of the bill pointed out that many of the Democrats on the committee — including Chairman Leahy and Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York — voted in favor of DOMA in 1996. The fact that they voted for DOMA, said Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “refutes the empty revisionist claim that DOMA embodies an irrational bigotry against same-sex couples.”

Whelan said it is “a profound confusion to believe that the values of federalism somehow require the federal government to defer to or incorporate the marriage laws of the various states in determining what marriage means in the provision of federal benefits.”

Whelan also said that repealing DOMA would “have the federal government validate” same-sex marriage and “require taxpayers to subsidize the provisions of benefits. And, he said, repealing DOMA would “pave the way” for polygamists and other polyamorous unions to be recognized under federal law.

Bill sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chaired the committee for a portion of the hearing, said DOMA denies rights and benefits to legally married same-sex couples. And she vowed that, “However long it takes” to repeal DOMA, “we will achieve it.”

The hearing was covered live by C-SPAN and will be rebroadcast from time to time.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

UPDATE: New York Assembly passes gay marriage bill — again

As David Taffet noted here earlier today, New York’s Senate appears to be one vote shy of the number needed to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. But the New York Daily News is reporting that the state’s Assembly has voted again to approve the legislation.

The Assembly has voted three times before to legalize gay marriage. In today’s vote, the measure passed 80-63, the lowest margin by which it has passed since it was first approved in 2007.

 

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Maryland Senate kills gender identity bill; anti-gay hate crime at UNC

Quinn Matney was attacked and severely burned in an anti-gay hate crime at the University of North Carolina.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. For a third straight week, LGBT advocates plan to speak during the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s meeting today and call on commissioners to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy. Last month, commissioners voted to add sexual orientation but not gender identity to the policy. The Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. in the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St.

2. The Maryland Senate on Monday voted to kill a measure that would have protected transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and credit — but not public accommodations. The vote marks the second major disappointment this year for LGBT advocates in Maryland, where the House thwarted a marriage equality bill last month.

3. A University of North Carolina freshman says he was attacked and severely burned in an anti-gay hate crime on the school’s campus last week. The UNC administration, which failed to notify students until a week after the attack occurred, now says it plans to report the incident as an anti-gay hate crime to the federal government.

—  John Wright

How will texting-while-driving ban affect Grindr? Johnson says it could lead to racial profiling

Eric Johnson

In case you missed it, the Texas House on Thursday passed a bill that would ban texting while driving and make it punishable by a fine of up to $200. The bill was amended so that it would not prohibit reading text messages, just typing them. And motorists would even be allowed to type messages so long as they’re at stop signs or red lights.

Naturally our first question was — how will this affect Grindr? — because we all know it’s during those long road trips when the gay mobile app is at its most useful. But seriously, this proposal, which now goes to the Senate, does sound a little difficult to enforce. For example, how does the officer know whether you’re typing a message or just reading one?

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, apparently shares these concerns (but not the one about Grindr). Johnson sent out a press release today announcing that he voted against the proposed ban:

“HB 243 is crafted in a way that will be very difficult for police to fairly enforce.  It is almost impossible to distinguish between a driver writing or sending a text message, which is prohibited in the bill, and a driver reading a text message, dialing a phone number, or reading a Google map, all of which remain permissible under HB 243,” said Rep. Johnson. “HB 243 essentially gives police the ability to pull over any driver they see with a cell phone in his or her hand.  This legislation in its current form is not fair to Texas drivers, especially in a state with a well-documented history of racial profiling.”

—  John Wright

Marriage equality bill introduced in Uruguay

According to the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, legislators in Uruguay have introduced a marriage equality bill. The bill has a good chance of passing because the liberal Frente Amplio party controls both houses of the legislature.

The bill’s author, Rep. Sebastián Sabini, explained the strategy to pass the law.

“We do not focus so much on the issue of gay marriage but of equal marriage regardless of sex, gender or religion,” Sabini said.

Laws that refer to “husband and wife” would change to “spouses” or “conjugal partner.”

If one spouse in a relationship had biological children, the law would give the non-biological partner the same rights and responsibilities in caring for the child.

Supporters said they hoped the law would be passed by both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate by the end of the year.

—  David Taffet

Coleman files bill to repeal Texas’ marriage ban

Rep. Garnet Coleman

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has filed a joint resolution that would repeal the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Coleman has filed a similar resolution in each session since the constitutional amendment was placed on the ballot by the Legislature in 2005.

In order to pass, the resolution would need a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate. Needless to say, this isn’t going to happen, but hey, you’ve gotta start somewhere. If Coleman’s resolution were to pass, repeal of the amendment would still need to be approved by a simple majority of voters and would appear on the ballot in November 2011.

Unfortunately, a repeal of the constitutional amendment is necessary before Texas can grant same-sex couples any form of relationship recognition, including civil unions or domestic partnerships. That’s because the broadly worded amendment prohibits the state or a political subdivision from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

The full text of Coleman’s H.J.R. 102 is after the jump.

—  John Wright

Equal Marriage Bill Passes Maryland Senate Committee

This post is from HRC Regional Field Director Sultan Shakir:

Moments ago, the Maryland State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, SB 116. This victory puts marriage equality one step closer to final passage. On behalf of HRC’s thousands of members and supporters in Maryland, we’d like to thank the seven members of the committee who voted yes, who are listed below.  The bill now heads to the full Senate where we’re working hard with our allies at Equality Maryland to secure the votes for passage. If you live in Maryland and would like to get involved in the effort to pass marriage equality, please email Sultan.Shakir@hrc.org.  

Maryland State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Members who voted yes on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act:

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery County), Chair
Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore City) Vice-Chair
Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County)
Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery County)
Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s County)
Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery County)
Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County)


Left to right, Sens. Frosh, Gladden and Brochin


Left to right, Sens. Forehand, Ramirez, Raskin and Zirkin


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  David Taffet

UDPATE: MD Senate committee to vote on passed marriage bill today

UPDATED and bumped by Joe @ 5:57 PM: The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee just passed the marriage bill. Via Equality Maryland:

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 7-4 to favorably report the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (SB 116) today. This legislation would end the exclusion of committed gay and lesbian couples from marriage. This is the first time the legislation has passed committee and is scheduled to be voted on by the Senate next week.

Momentum!
_____________________
Marriage Equality news continues to rapidly develop in states across our nation.

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings committee is scheduled to vote on the marriage equality bill Thursday, which would advance the measure to a vote by the full senate.

The bill has support from seven of the committee’s 11 members, according to the Associated Press.

“A vote by the full Senate is expected to be close: 23 senators have pledged their support, 24 are needed to advance the bill to the House. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has said he would sign the measure into law if it reaches his desk,” the AP reports.

The article also reports that among the Senators who have decided to support the bill is one that was “galvanized by what he called the ‘appalling’ testimony of antigay witnesses.” That would be our beloved Maggie Gallagher. Thanks Maggie!




AMERICAblog Gay

—  David Taffet

Md. Senate Committee to Vote on Marriage Bill

MARYLAND SENATE CHAMBERS X390 (.GOV) | ADVOCATE.COMThe Maryland senate judicial proceedings committee is expected to approve the marriage equality bill Thursday and send the measure for a vote by the full senate.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  David Taffet

Chris Matthews Calls For Senate War Crimes Hearings Over Iraq Invasion

Joe. My. God.

—  David Taffet