This piece is the seventh 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.
Nine years ago, as I was preparing to leave Ohio University, I said goodbye to Adam, one of my best friends. I remember writing to him in a card that I hoped our husbands would someday get to meet. That November – November 3, 2004 to be precise – I was on the phone with him, and he was heartbroken at what for many was a difficult election (including Ohio passing a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman).
Fast forward to 2011, and a visit with Adam and his partner of several years, Michael. Marriage equality came up in conversation. It seemed to us to be possible but still five or ten years away.
Then came 2012. In May, President Obama affirmed his support for the freedom to marry of same-sex couples. In December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear cases challenging California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
With oral arguments looming at the end of the month, Adam’s reaction to the President’s announcement rings ever more true:
THANK YOU President Obama! Those of you who know Michael and I: we have such an incredibly strong, stable, loving relationship. Opening our relationship up to marriage does nothing but STRENGTHEN the institution!
That’s exactly why we should dump DOMA.
Yes, dumping DOMA is just one step on the long road to marriage equality. But it’s an important step, and one that’s many years overdue. DOMA unconstitutionally defines marriage for all federal purpose as the union of one man and one woman. That means that legally married couples in nine states and the District of Columbia are denied the more than one thousand rights and benefits that the federal government ties to marriage. That means that these couples and families aren’t afforded the safety and security that comes along with many of those rights. That means that they are discriminated against based solely on their sexual orientation.
That means that if Adam and Michael were to legally marry, despite progress made under the Obama administration, the federal government – bound by the discrimination enshrined in law – would have no choice but to turn its back on them in most cases.
That is not right. Dump DOMA.
Jen Herrick, Senior Policy Analyst
People For the American Way
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when Republicans started complaining that President Obama's second inaugural address was too "partisan" and lacked "outreach" across the aisle. But who was left out? What did they find "partisan"? The acknowledgement of climate science? The idea that women should receive equal pay for equal work? The nod to civil rights struggles of our past and present? The hope that no American will have to wait in hours-long lines to vote? The defense of the existence of a social safety net? The determination to offer support to the victims of a historic storm and to find real answers to the epidemic of mass shootings? In the not-too-distant past, none of these would have raised eyebrows except on the very, very far right. But I guess that's the point: what was once the radical fringe is now in control of the Grand Old Party.
In many ways, Monday's inauguration ceremony was a Tea Party Republican's nightmare-come-true. The openly gay poet. The Spanish sprinkled into the benediction. The one-two-three punch of "Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall." It was the embodiment of all that the far right has tried to wall itself off from as the country begins to include more and more of the real America in its democracy.
What would have pleased this faction, short of winning the presidential election? I imagine they would have preferred a paean to the America of their imaginations -- where the founders were flawless and prescient about the right to bear assault weapons and the Constitution was delivered, amendments included, directly from God; where there are no gay people or only silent ones, where the world is not getting warmer; where there have been no struggles in the process of forging a more perfect union. This, of course, would have been its very own kind of political statement -- and one that was just rejected by the majority of American voters.
If embracing America as it is rather than as a shimmery vision of what it never was constitutes partisanship, and if it turns off people who cling to that dishonest vision, let's have more of it.
Please take a moment to watch this end-of-the-year thank you message for you and all of PFAW's wonderful supporters around the world from PFAW founder Norman Lear:
Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, passed away yesterday at the age of 88, having represented the people of Hawaii in either the House or Senate as long as it has been a state. Inouye was elected to the Senate nine times, serving nearly 50 years. Taking office the year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Inouye was a leader in half a century of civil rights battles in the Senate. John Nichols of The Nation details Inouye’s role in some of those battles:
The last sitting senator who joined the epic struggles to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, he led the fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act and was a key sponsor of the constitutional amendment to extend voting rights to 18-to-20-year-olds.
Inouye battled for reparations for Japanese-Americans who were interned in government compounds during World War II. And he was a passionate defender of the right to dissent. Indeed, the ACLU recalls, “Senator Inouye fought every iteration of proposed constitutional amendments to ban flag desecration—support that was particularly meaningful to the defense of free speech because of his military service.”
Inouye was one of the handful of senators who rejected the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s and he emerged as one of the earliest and most determined backers of marriage equality in the Senate, asking: “How can we call ourselves the land of the free, if we do not permit people who love one another to get married?”
When the debate over whether gays and lesbians serving in the military arose, Inouye declared as a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient: “In every war we have had men and women of different sexual orientation who have stood in harm’s way and given their lives for their country. I fought alongside gay men during World War II, many of them were killed in combat. Are we to suggest that because of their sexual orientation they are not heroes?”
Sen. Inouye represented the best of American values. This country will miss him.
On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two landmark cases on marriage equality. Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia reminded us again why gay rights advocates, to put it mildly, aren’t counting on his vote.
Scalia is the Supreme Court’s most outspoken opponent of gay rights. He led the dissent to the two major gay rights decisions of his tenure on the Court, the decisions to strike down Texas’ criminal sodomy law and to overturn Colorado’s ban on local anti-discrimination measures. And in his spare time, he minces no words about his uncompromising opposition to gay rights. Here are seven of his most egregious anti-gay statements:
Losing the Latino vote "spells doom for us." - Mitt Romney, April 15, 2012
"Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community." - President Obama, October 26, 201 2
At last, bipartisan agreement! You don't need a degree in political science to know this: demonizing and alienating the fastest-growing group in the country is no way to build long-term political success. Pair that with the fact that demonizing any group of Americans is un-American and just plain wrong. But in recent years, Republicans, and especially party standard-bearer Mitt Romney, just haven't been able to help themselves. In an effort to win over a shrinking and increasingly extreme base, Romney and team have sold their souls to get the Republican presidential nomination. And they went so far to do it that even their famous etch-a-sketch won't be able to erase their positions.
As Mitt Romney knows, the slipping support of the GOP among Latinos is no mystery. We've seen this movie before, in 1994, when Republican California Gov. Pete Wilson pushed anti-immigrant smears to promote California's anti-immigrant Prop 187 which in turn buoyed his own tough re-election campaign. It worked in the short term - both the ballot measure and Gov. Wilson won handily - but what a long term price to pay as California became solidly blue for the foreseeable future.
We're now seeing what happened in California at a national scale. Harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric helped Romney win the Republican primary. But in the general election, it may well be his downfall.
In case you tuned out Romney's appeals to the anti-immigrant Right during the primaries, here's a quick recap. He ran ads specifically criticizing Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice. He says he'd veto the DREAM Act , a rare immigration provision with overwhelming bipartisan support. He took on anti-immigrant leader Kris Kobach, architect of the draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama as an adviser , then said his immigration plan was to force undocumented immigrants to"self-deport." He even endorsed Iowa Rep. Steve King, who suggested building an electric fence at the Mexican border, comparing immigrants to "livestock" and "dogs." Romney's new attempts to appeal to Latino voters are clearly empty - he's already promised the Right that he will use their anti-immigrant rhetoric whenever it's convenient and shut down any reasonable attempts at immigration reform.
If President Obama wins reelection, however, we have a real chance for real immigration reform. He told the Des Moines Register last week that if reelected he will work to achieve immigration reform next year. Beyond incremental steps like his institution of part of the DREAM Act by executive order, real comprehensive immigration reform would finally ease the uncertainty of millions of immigrants and the businesses that hire them. It's something that George W. Bush and John McCain wanted before it was thwarted by extremists in their own party. It's something that Mitt Romney clearly won't even try.
If President Obama wins, and especially when he wins with the help of Latino voters turned off by the GOP's anti-immigrant politics, he will have a strong mandate to create clear and lasting immigration reform. And Republicans will have to think twice before hitching their futures on the politics of demonization and exclusion. Whereas George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 and John McCain 31 percent in 2008, Mitt Romney is polling at just 21 percent among Latinos. That's no coincidence.
My group, People For the American Way, has been working to make sure that the GOP's anti-Latino policies and rhetoric are front and center during the presidential election. We're running a comprehensive campaign aimed at the large Latino populations in Nevada and Colorado and the rapidly growing Latino populations in Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, and North Carolina. In each of those states, we're strategically targeting Latino voters with TV and radio ads, direct mail, internet ads and phone banking to make sure they hear the GOP's message about their community. In Colorado, we're going up against Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS , which knows just as well as Romney that the loss of Latino voters "spells doom" for Republicans. In all of these states, higher turnout among Latinos motivated by Mitt Romney's attacks could swing critical electoral votes.
This is a battle where the right thing to do and the politically smart thing to do are one and the same. Republicans have embraced racially-charged attacks against Latinos, pushing English-only laws,attempting to legalize racial profiling by immigration enforcement, dehumanizing immigrants, and even attacking the first Latina Supreme Court justice for talking about her heritage. They deserve to lose the votes of Latinos and others for it. This presidential election is a choice between right-wing scare tactics-- the last resort of those fighting to return to an imaginary America of the past-- and policies that embrace and celebrate our growing Latino population as an integral part of what is the real America.
This week, the White House made public President Obama’s endorsement interview with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. In the interview, the president is frank about what he thinks could be the deciding factor in this election – the votes of Latinos:
The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.
The president is right that as the United States’ Latino population has grown in recent years, the GOP has increasingly pushed Latinos aside. While John McCain and George W. Bush both to some extent supported bipartisan efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, Mitt Romney has embraced some of his party’s most extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. He touted the endorsement of Kris Kobach, the man behind draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama, then took Kobach on as an adviser. He said he would veto the DREAM Act if it were to be passed by Congress. He says his immigration strategy is to make the lives of immigrants so miserable that they are forced to “self-deport.” He endorsed Steve King, the Iowa congressman who has compared immigrants to “cattle” and “dogs.”
Unsurprisingly, Latino voters haven’t been responding well to Romney’s record. Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, and McCain won 31 percent in 2008. Romney is currently polling at 20 -25 percent among Latinos.
Earlier this month People For the American Way launched a 5-week, $1.2 million campaign to remind Latino voters about Mitt Romney’s policies. We’re running TV ads in four states (Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia and Nevada), radio ads in five (with the addition of North Carolina), and operating a direct mail program. Here are the three of the TV ads that we’ve run so far. English translations are available in the description of each video on YouTube.
UPDATE: On October 29, we expanded the campaign to Colorado.
A conservative George H. W. Bush nominee on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals authored a strong decision today declaring section 3 of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Earlier this year, a federal district court judge in Connecticut, that one a Bush-43 nominee, also declared the law unconstitutional. So did a unanimous panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case before the 2nd Circuit was that of Edith Windsor, an octogenarian in New York who lost her wife in 2009; they had been together for forty years. The New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Windsor, described her case in a press release this summer:
Windsor and Spyer lived together for more than four decades in Greenwich Village. Despite not being able to marry legally, they were engaged in 1967. In 1977, Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with that disease. They were finally legally married in May 2007.
When Spyer died in 2009, she left all of her property to Windsor. Because they were married, Spyer's estate normally would have passed to Edie as her spouse without any estate tax at all. But because of DOMA, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes. Payment of the federal estate tax by a surviving spouse is one of the most significant adverse impacts of DOMA since the amount owed, as was true in this case, is often quite substantial.
"Edie Windsor, who recently celebrated her 83rd birthday, suffers from a serious heart condition," said Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul Weiss and counsel to Windsor. "Because the District Court's ruling in her favor is entitled to an automatic stay of enforcement, Edie cannot yet receive a refund of the unconstitutional estate tax that she was forced to pay simply for being gay. The constitutional injury inflicted on Edie should be remedied within her lifetime."
The 2nd Circuit opinion leaves no ambiguity as to the discriminatory harm done by section 3 of DOMA. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress pulls out this paragraph of the decision:
[W]e conclude that review of Section 3 of DOMA requires heightened scrutiny. The Supreme Court uses certain factors to decide whether a new classification qualifies as a quasi-suspect class. They include: A) whether the class has been historically “subjected to discrimination,”; B) whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society,” C) whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group;” and D) whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.” Immutability and lack of political power are not strictly necessary factors to identify a suspect class. Nevertheless, immutability and political power are indicative, and we consider them here. In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.
That’s an unambiguous indictment of DOMA and of all laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians. Nevertheless, House Speaker John Boehner, who has now spent $1.5 million taxpayer dollars in an attempt to defend DOMA, is likely to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. But the easier option, as PFAW president Michael Keegan points out in a statement today, would be for Congress just to repeal DOMA. It’s done enough harm to millions of people like Edie Windsor, and its effects will become clearer as more and more gay and lesbian couples are allowed to marry, and find that their marriages aren’t recognized by the federal government.