In DC, progress toward marriage equality comes amid anti-equality setbacks

By now you’ve likely watched (or heard about) the ABC News interview with President Obama in which he affirmed his support for family equality and the freedom to marry of same-sex couples.

The President gave us new momentum for passing the Respective for Marriage Act and dumping DOMA. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY08), the bill’s sponsor:

It certainly puts the bill in a better light. It changes the background and it has an impact in moving the bill forward. The bill is developing more and more momentum.

Jo Deutsch, Federal Director for Freedom to Marry, explained why:

It shows a man going from point one — from his own questioning, to talking to family and friends, thinking about his own religious upbringing, from seeing people who are impacted by DOMA — and come to end of that journey and say he is for the freedom to marry. That piece acts as an umbrella over all of what is going on on Capitol Hill. ... Because if President Obama can do it and say he is for the freedom to marry, maybe I can do it too.

We also have new momentum for equality in the military context, first at DOJ, and now at the VA:

The court notice, [filed in Cardona v. Shinseki and] signed by VA General Counsel Will Gunn on behalf of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, says VA will not fight Fifth Amendment claims based on equal protection under the law brought against DOMA.

The memo also says Shinseki believes DOMA should be subject to a “heightened scrutiny” standard, meaning it is up to defendants to prove the law is justifiable under the constitution, as opposed to the “rational basis” standard, which puts the burden on the law’s opponents to prove there is no rational reason for it to exist.

Unfortunately, much work – and anti-equality forces – remain.

Before the House Armed Services Committee passed its FY13 Defense Authorization bill, it adopted two amendments that purport to “defend” DOMA.

  • Section 536 – Provide a “conscience” protection for chaplains and other personnel. Extending to marriage and any other belief regarding the “appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality,” this language will have broad-based discriminatory impact, and it ignores that fact that the military and the First Amendment already provide adequate protections.
  • Section 537– Restrict the use of DOD property against performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. Though DOMA remains in place, there is no reason why facilities shouldn’t be available to same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized at the state level.

Click here for more information from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

When FY13 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations hit the House floor, Amendment 1096 passed, which would withhold funds for any contravention of DOMA, based on the false belief that the government is (or will somehow in the future) start recognizing same-sex marriages. No marriages are being recognized. We’re still enforcing the law. Where’s the contravention?

(The Senate has yet to act on either of these proposals, and it remains to be seen what might later happen in conference. The Defense bill is also subject to a veto threat, based in part on Sections 536 and 537.)

And let’s not forget what Speaker Boehner said, that Republicans are “focused in on the economy,” as if equality is somehow a political distraction. Equality is an economic issue. Same-sex couples and LGBT families need and deserve the economic security that the freedom to marry would provide.

If you haven’t yet, now is the time to add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.

PFAW