This piece is the eighth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
At the end of 2008, my husband and I were married in the same synagogue where I’d had my bar-mitzvah more than three decades earlier. As a 13 year-old in the 1970s, I read from the Torah and spoke to the congregation about letting the people we love know how much we love them. But as a closeted 13 year-old, I never dreamed that 30 years later, I’d be standing in the same chapel, with all the same people who are dearest to me, publicly professing my love for another man. Rick and I were surrounded by family and married in the traditions of our faith. And as we drank from the Kiddush cup, we adapted a practice from the Passover Seder; since Prop 8 had just passed, we removed eight drops of wine as a symbol that our joy was diminished by the suffering caused by marriage discrimination.
Passover is my favorite holiday because it is about living in a just society. It teaches us to welcome the stranger, because “we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It is a lesson that, unfortunately, must be learned and relearned, as every society has those whom it unjustly treats as outcasts.
It’s appropriate that the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in both the Prop 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases during the week of Passover. Although the Constitution uses the language of “equal protection” instead “strangers in the land of Egypt,” the underlying values are the same. It is wrong – and unconstitutional – for states to prohibit us from marrying and for the federal government to refuse to recognize our marriages. What better time than Passover to dump DOMA and strike down Prop 8?
Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way
This piece is the sixth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
Growing up as a gay woman in a conservative Salvadoran household was like being the protagonist in one of the telenovelas that I used to watch with my Maminena, my grandma. Thankfully, here in Maryland, being gay is no longer an obstacle to marrying the love of my life.
After a hard-fought battle, my girlfriend and I now have the right to say, “I do.”
Unlike most economic development initiatives, tax increases, and transportation projects, our ability to marry was taken to the polls and put to a vote. Marriage for same-sex couples is still treated like an earned privilege rather than a given right. While we won the right to marry in Maryland, thanks to DOMA our marriage would not be recognized under federal law.
My relationship, under this law, does not count. DOMA is a vehicle for discrimination and it hurts our families.
When thinking about equality, whether it’s equal protection under federal law, marriage equality or equal protection for our transgender community, two words come to mind: unconditional love.
Unconditional love. That is what equality means to me: unconditional love for our community, constituents, neighbors, co-workers, schoolmates, friends, family members. Because when you truly love, you don’t let discrimination and injustice take place in your community – or in your country.
The Defense of Marriage Act is just as outdated as the concept of “traditional marriage” being restricted to heterosexuals only. It’s time to dump DOMA – let unconditional love take its place.
Alumna of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Front Line Leaders Academy
Last week the Equal Justice Task Force of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, joined with a broad coalition of organizations in filing amicus briefs for the marriage equality cases being considered by the Supreme Court. These cases – Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenges California’s Proposition 8, and Windsor v. U.S., which challenges Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – represent landmark opportunities for our nation to move toward making marriage equality a reality for all Americans.
“As African American faith leaders, we feel it is our responsibility to question hatred and discrimination wherever it happens – and especially in our laws,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Laws singling out and preventing same-sex couples from getting married are blatantly discriminatory and they hurt our communities. These amicus briefs voice our support for equal rights and equal justice for all of God’s children.”
The amicus brief for the Hollingsworth case, a continuation of the 2010 brief PFAW Foundation submitted when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case, exposes the discriminatory nature of the supposedly “moral” rationales for Proposition 8:
This Court has refused for three-quarters of a century to uphold laws disfavoring minority groups based on religious or moral disapproval alone—with the one, now-discredited exception of Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986). And for good reason: Time and again throughout our nation’s history, laws that disadvantaged or degraded particular groups have been justified by resort to morality and religion. And time and again, our society has come to see those laws as repugnant, and the religious and moral disapproval justifying them as little more than a means to enshrine the status quo.
Likewise, the amicus brief for the Windsor case points out:
This Court has long implicitly acknowledged the connection between religious justifications and the Equal Protection guarantee. The Court’s decision overturning Virginia’s law forbidding marriage between persons of different races is illustrative. In Loving v. Virginia, the Court dismissed the Virginia trial judge’s proffered religious-based rationale, which cited God’s hand in creating different races, recognizing instead that “[t]here is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification.” 388 U.S. 1, 11 (1967). Ultimately, the Court recognized that the anti-miscegenation law served no secular purpose, and was based on nothing more than racial discrimination—even if disguised as a moral or religious belief.
As these briefs highlight, discrimination – even if cloaked in the language of religious or moral beliefs – is still discrimination.
Today’s announcement marks a proud day for our country and for the President. For those of us who have been working towards marriage equality for many years, the impact of having the support of the President of the United States is incredibly powerful. As President Obama made clear in his comments today, marriage equality for all people is an idea whose time has come. Despite setbacks like the results from North Carolina last night, it’s more obvious than ever that the momentum is on our side.
In recent years, more and more Americans have come to understand that preventing loving same-sex couples from getting married causes real harm to the people they care about. In families and communities across the country, Americans are coming to the same conclusion as the President: when two people make a public commitment to love and care for each other, that’s a marriage no matter what the gender of the people involved.
Today the President did the right thing. For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone banked to help elect Barack Obama in 2008, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this President in the first place.
Now, we must redouble our efforts to knock down one of the biggest barriers to full legal equality nationwide: the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
With your continued dedication to core American values like Equality, and your support of our work expand the promise of our country and our Constitution to all families, together, we’ll Dump DOMA and achieve basic fairness for all: the American Way.
Back in July, I had the privilege of attending the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act. Today brought me to another historic moment: the passage of that bill out of Committee.
Senator Feinstein, the bill’s chief sponsor, offered a perfect description of how times have changed.
“When DOMA passed 15 years ago, no state permitted same-sex marriage. Today, 6 states and the District of Columbia do: Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
So, today there are 131,000-plus legally married same-sex couples in this country.
These changes reflect a firmly-established legal principle in this country: marriage is a legal preserve of the states.
DOMA infringes on this state authority by requiring the federal government to disregard state law, and deny more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits to which all other legally married couples are entitled.”
Here are a mere few of the many highlights from the other nine Democrats on the Committee, all nine among the bill’s thirty cosponsors.
“The Federal Government should not deny recognition and protection to the thousands of Americans who are lawfully married under their state law. We must repeal DOMA to ensure the freedom and equality of all of our citizens.”
“I voted for DOMA. I believe I was wrong.”
“If this is called to the floor and only the 30 cosponsors vote for it, it’s worth the effort.”
“But every year, when they fill out their federal tax return, Javen and Oby have to check the ‘single’ box. They have to sign that form—under penalty of perjury. Every year, DOMA forces Javen and Oby to lie under oath. Every year, Javen and Oby pay taxes to a government that says their marriage is a fiction, even though they are a married couple—in the eyes of the God that they worship, in the eyes of their friends and family, and in the eyes of the state of Connecticut.”
“And you know, when we do pass it, straight people aren’t suddenly going to become gay. Straight people aren’t going to stop getting married. No, we’re going to be just fine. What will happen is that millions upon millions of lesbian and gay Americans aren’t going to suffer the indignity of having their own government tell them that their marriages are no good. What will happen is that it will be easier for those people to start and protect their families.”
"This is a truly important day in our nation's journey toward equality," Senator Coons said. "We’ve made tremendous progress and I am proud of the committee's vote today. As more Americans join the cause of equality, the Senate is changing with it. Equality is never a special interest — it is a fundamental interest of this country. Whether the Respect for Marriage Act moves to the floor in this Congress or the next, we will eventually repeal DOMA. We must redouble our efforts to show that the love and commitment shared by same-sex couples is of equal value as that shared by heterosexual couples."
There are an estimated 36,000 gay and lesbian binational couples in the United States. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other discriminatory federal policies, these Americans are unable to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex spouses.
Meet Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda – they need your help! With Takako’s student visa set to expire, the threat of Takako’s deportation looms large for a couple who is legally married in Vermont and has known each other for over 30 years.
Anthony Makk and Bradford Wells are a couple in San Francisco who have been married for seven years. However, because their marriage is not recognized by the federal government, Wells, an Austrialian, faces deportation later this month.
Earlier this year, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). It is a meaningful step toward providing equality to same-sex couples and keeping their families together. It would allow many same-sex partners to begin the immigration process more quickly, efficiently, and with fewer limitations. For many, it could very well be the only avenue available to keep their families together in the US.
Please join us in calling on President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to keep couples like Frances and Takako and Anthony and Bradford together. Also, contact your senators and representative and urge them to cosponsor UAFA. All families deserve to stay together and have a chance at pursuing the American dream.