On November 10, 2011, Senate Democrats led by Dianne Feinstein of California made progress towards repealing the discriminatory 1996 bill DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). In a 10-8 vote along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to the Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn DOMA and mandate federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Despite Republican accusations that the bill panders to gay voters and obstacles in the Republican-dominated House, the vote is a cornerstone to ensuring that America emerges on the right side of history.
DOMA violates federalism and constitutes a despicable display of bipartisan bigotry. Passed in 1996 during the Clinton years with overwhelming support in both parties, DOMA denies federal benefits to same sex marriage. Under DOMA, even married gays are marginalized. Unmarried and gay couples cannot file joint federal tax returns, enjoy spousal Social Security benefits, and have no protection from estate taxes.
Additionally, DOMA violates federal principles enshrined in the Constitution by allowing states to refuse recognition of same sex marriages performed in other states. Six states currently allow civil marriages for gays – Iowa, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, as well as the District of Columbia and potentially New Jersey.
Not only is DOMA hypocritical, but it violates the fundamental ethos of America – rugged individual and the requisite right to privacy. During the Republican debates, buzzwords such as “family,” “privacy,” and “stability” have been routinely repeated. Yet, as gay activist and influential blogger Andrew Sullivan writes, “What they [Republicans] could not see was the conservative tradition of the family and personal responsibility … all led inexorably toward civil marriage for gays.” The candidates have all presented arguments as to why intrusive ‘big government’ legislation like SOPA impinges on freedom of expression. Yet, they cannot come to terms with how restricting gays’ right to marry constitutes any form of psychological restriction.
Many opponents of gay marriage claim that repealing DOMA would inevitably lead to the disintegration of marriage as a monogamous, sanctified institution. Some radicals propagate a slippery slope syndrome: gay marriage, then polygamy, then gay polygamy, etc. Yet, this implies that gays are unwilling to commit to a traditional, exclusive marriage. Stereotypes of gays as promiscuous and shady are promulgated precisely because they haven’t had the winds of history at their back. They are historically ostracized, denied by the government the OK to start a family, and led to conduct underground affairs. Sullivan explains with great humility: “Here was a minority asking for responsibility and commitment and integration.”
Harry Reid will not dare bring the Respect for Marriage Act to the Senate floor for debate during an election year. Not only would it face a filibuster, Boehner and the House Republicans would crush its momentum. Nevertheless, Senator Feinstein is committed. “So, we’ll just march on. We’ll continue this. And if I have to reintroduce it next session, I’ll reintroduce it. Sessions after that, I’ll reintroduce it.” What’s more, the Obama administration has publicly announced that the Justice Dept. will stop defending DOMA in courts, a move deemed unconstitutional by Republicans, but a savvy approach to combating the bipartisan stalemate with public opinion and case law.
At a recent Human Rights conference, the President declared his administration’s decision a positive step in the “slow, inexorable march towards a more perfect union." Yes, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s bill faces severe legal obstacles. But all moral considerations are in favor of a repeal. In what Obama correctly notes is a “contest of values,” the Democrats are standing on the right side of history. And it is never wrong to do the politically inopportune, to apply pressure on the arc of history. That’s how the slow march accelerates.
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