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The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law in 1996, defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and declares that states are not obliged to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Supporters of LGBT rights claim that DOMA is discriminatory, and calls for its repeal have grown louder in recent years.
On July 20th, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled "S.598, The Respect for Marriage Act: Assesing the Impact of DOMA on American Families." According to the Judiciary Committee website, the hearing featured input from LGBT citizens as well as prominent LGBT rights advocates, including Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry and Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign. However, also on the roster were voices from noted right-wing organizations, such as David Austin R. Nimocks of the Alliance Defense Fund and Thomas Minnery of Focus on the Family. Much of the hearing focused on state rights, financial issues, and family as they relate to DOMA, and I have included some select quotes from the hearing below.
Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-VT) called the hearing to address the impact of DOMA, as well as the proposed S.598 Respect for Marriage Act which would repeal DOMA. At the 21:37 mark of the hearing webcast, Leahy reminded listeners that "the march toward equality must continue until all individuals and all families are both protected and respected equally under our laws." At the 22:12 mark, Sen. Leahy discussed the unjust and discriminatory nature of DOMA.
"I'm concerned that DOMA has served to create a tier of second-class families in states like Vermont. This runs counter to the values upon which America is founded, to the proud tradition we have in this country of moving toward a more inclusive society ... Sadly, the effect of DOMA goes well beyond the harm to a family's dignity. The commitment of marriage leads all of us to want to protect and provide for our families. As we'll hear today, DOMA's caused significant economic harm to some American families. The law has made it more difficult for some families to stay together. It has made it more difficult for some family members to take care of one another during bad health, and DOMA's even made it more difficult for some Americans to protect their families after they die."Joe Solomonese of the Human Rights Campaign had powerful words for listeners. At the 136:44 mark, Solomonese lambasted the harms DOMA inflicts on same-sex couples.
"DOMA means that the many protections the federal government provides for the health and security of American families remains out of reach for same sex-couples and their children. It keeps for instance gay and lesbian Americans from sponsoring their spouses for immigration to the United States, forcing binational couples to choose between love and country. It deprives surviving same-sex spouses of crucial social security benefits, earned by their loved ones through years of hard work. Sen. Feinstein asked about the impact of DOMA on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It even bars the spouse of a gay or lesbian servicemember or veteran from being buried with him or her in a veteran cemetery."Other speakers saw DOMA differently. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) voiced his opposition to the repeal of DOMA. At the 36:54 mark, Rep. King insisted that same-sex marriage would "devalue" the institution of marriage.
"Traditional marriage is a sacred institution and serves as the cornerstone of our society. We cannot afford to devalue it with legislation like S.598, and we must oppose any effort that would diminish the definition of marriage. All of human experience points to one committed relationship between a man and a woman as the core building block to society. It takes a man and a woman to have children, and children are necessary for the next generation, and we need to provide to them, pass through to them the values of our civilization in the family."At the 140:57 mark, David Austin R. Nimocks of the Alliance Defense Fund made familiar arguments against same-sex marriage and DOMA repeal, including children's alleged need of both a father and mother, the supposed cultural universality of nuclear families, and complimentary gender differences.
"Marriage laws stem from the fact that children are the product of the sexual relationships between men and women, and that both fathers and mothers are viewed to be necessary for children. Thus, throughout history, diverse cultures and faiths have recognized marriage between one man and one women as the best way to promote healthy families and societies. The studies and scientists you've heard about over a long period of time demonstrate that the ideal family structure for a child is a family headed by opposite-sex biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. But some, Mr. Chairman, are asking you to ignore the unique and demonstrable differences between men and women and parenthood. No mothers, no fathers, just generic parents. Mr. Chairman, there are no generic people. We are composed of two complimentary by different halves of humanity."As a side note, regarding Nimocks' claim that heterosexual marriage between one man and one woman is universal among cultures, history and present-day research seem to indicate otherwise.
Thomas Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family and executive director of its CitizenLink affiliate, defended DOMA at the hearing. Minnery spoke at length about state rights if DOMA was repealed. At the 64:47 mark, Minnery lamented that parents would have to cope with same-sex marriages in their states if DOMA were repealed.
"Should DOMA be repealed, parents in those states which have registered their approval of traditional marriages would be faced with the problems of coping with marriages of which they overwhelmingly disapprove. We need look no further than Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, to understand what I'm talking about. It's this forced political correctness that brooks no diversity of opinion that is the problem here."At the 87:51 mark, Sen. Leahy asked Minnerly if the children of same-sex marriages were disadvantaged by the denial of financial benefits to same-sex couples. Minnery's answer was revealing.
LEAHY: If you have parents legally married under the laws of the state, one set of parents are entitled to certain financial benefits for their children, the other set of parents are denied those same financial benefits for their children, are not those children, at least in that aspect of finances, are not those children of the second family, are they not at a disadvantage? Yes or no?The issue of research played a significant role in the hearing. At the 107:30 mark, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) critiqued a study that Winnery refered to in his written testimony. Franken noted that in Minnery's written testimony, Winnery claimed that children living with married fathers and mothers had a wide range of positive outcomes, such as better school performance, lower rates of poverty, and fewer emotional problems. The zinger came at the 108:03 mark, in which Franken doubted Minnery's trustworthiness because of his interpretation of a 2010 HHS report (see video above).
MINNERY: That would be yes, as you asked the question narrowly, Senator.
FRANKEN: You cite a Department of Health and Human Services study that I have right here from December 2010 to support this conclusion. I checked the study out ... It actually doesn't say what you said it says. It says that nuclear families, not opposite-sex married families, are associated with those positive outcomes. Isn't it true, Mr. Minnery, that a married same-sex couples that has had or adopted kids would fall under the definition of a nuclear family in the study that you cite?As same-sex marriage gains more support in the U.S. and discrimination against same-sex couples becomes increasingly unacceptable, I eagerly wait to see the final fate of DOMA. If the Respect for Marriage Act gains enough momentum, it could bring about the end of DOMA and a new era of LGBT rights.
MINNERY: I would think that the study, when it cites nuclear families, would mean a family headed by a husband or wife.
FRANKEN: It doesn't. [Laughter] The study defines a nuclear family as one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all the children in the family. And I frankly really don't know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies these ways.
For additional news and commentary, visit the following links.
The Advocate: The Don't-Miss Moments from the DOMA Hearing
The Advocate: Widower to Conservative Org: I Won’t Be Needing Your Services
Think Progress: Franken Destroys Focus on the Family Witness, Exposes Misuse of HHS Study
Talking Points Memo: Emotional Testimony From Gay Partners At Senate Hearing On Repealing DOMA
Truth Wins Out: Focus’s Tom Minnery Admits Children of Same-Sex Couples Disadvantaged
Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Family Research Council is Mad at Sen. Al Franken