July 20, 2011
Updates will scroll from the bottom
By Adam Bink
9:45 AM EST: Good morning from the hearing room. Chairman Leahy opens the hearing by making remarks about New York and Vermont moving forward on marriage; how he and his wife might feel if their marriage were not acknowledged by the federal government; and how we will hear today from Reps. Nadler, John Lewis, and Steve King.
9:54 AM: Leahy reiterates that the Respect for Marriage Act will not force any state to marry any same-sex couple or change laws.
Update: A live webcast can be found here.
9:56 AM: Sen. Feinstein, the lead sponsor and our partner in this fight to repeal DOMA, is now speaking. She starts by thanking Chairman Leahy for his leadership. She notes how family law is typically the domain of the states, and how this law intervenes unnecessarily. She thanks the 16 Californians who submitted statements for the record. She notes there are between 50,000 and 80,000 married same-sex couples in the nation, 18,000 of which are in California.
9:58: Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights legend, starts by noting that in the year 2011, that it is still necessary to hold hearings and debate whether human beings should be able to marry the one they love. He notes in his home state of Alabama, there were colored water fountains and white water fountains, among other establishments with such distinctions. He said when Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, it was a stain on our democracy. Rep. Lewis notes that marriage is a basic human right, and no government, federal or state, should be able to tell people they cannot marry. Congress, he says, should not only repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, but should work to ensure equality across the country. Justice delayed is justice denied, and passing this bill is the simple right thing to do. “These are our brothers and sisters, we cannot turn our back on them; we must join hands and work to create a more perfect union.”
10:05: Rep. Steve King of Iowa: Traditional marriage is a cornerstone of our society, S.598 (the Respect for Marriage Act) would demean this institution. Says that the arguments conveyed by same-sex marriage advocates could be used to promote marriage between family members. Notes that Iowans voted out the three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention last November. Notes 31/31 votes at the ballot level. Complains that the Obama Administration believes DOMA is unconstitutional despite no court ruling so (which is actually false).
10:10: Rep. Nadler: Reviews what the Respect for Marriage Act would do, and notes how it would actually protect states’ rights and restore equal respect for marriages in every state. It would continue to allow every religion to choose whether or not to permit same-sex marriage.
10:17: Sen. Grassley, the ranking member: Notes that several members of this body on the pro-equality side voted for DOMA in 1996. They did not do so, he asserts, to harm gay and lesbian people, but to support “traditional marriage.” Argues that states that make changes in marriage laws should not “impose” those changes on other states (although the Respect for Marriage Act would not do such a thing). Says there was a witness he would have called, but she declined, citing intimidation because of her support of DOMA. Grassley chides about respect and the First Amendment (as if this doesn’t happen on both sides).
10:24: Witnesses who are not members of Congress will start speaking. Ron Wallen from Indio, CA is up. Ron begins by noting how his husband, Tom, was diagnosed with leukemia. He passed away on March 8. They were married in California in 2008. He notes how Social Security benefits were to be $1,850, $300 for a pension, and his own benefit of $900 were part of their income. Notes how Social Security survivor’s benefit allows people like Ron to stay in their home; however, he now has to worry about paying his mortgage because their combined income dropped dramatically and was not supplemented by survivor’s benefits. Asks simply to be treated fairly.
10:31: Tom Minnery from Focus on the Family is up. Argues that he represents the people who voted for “traditional marriage.” Goes on to complain about marriage being destroyed.
Ed. note: On the Republican side, Sens. Grassley and Hatch are present. On the Democratic side, Chairman Leahy and Sens. Feinstein, Franken, Schumer, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Coons and Blumenthal are present.
10:36: Andrew Sorbo from Connecticut is up. Spent 35 years as a teacher/principal in the public and Catholic schools. Lost his husband of nearly 30 years recently, a professor of medicine at Yale. Joined in a civil union in Vermont. His husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They were married in 2009 in Connecticut, but Colin (his spouse) died for months later. Was forced to pay additional health insurance expenses, almost one-third of his entire pension, as a consequence of DOMA. Unable to inherit Social Security benefits.
10:42: Susan Murray from Vermont is up. Susan was a co-counsel in Baker v. Vermont which helped established civil unions. She and her wife cannot file joint tax returns and must pay far more in taxes because of DOMA. Her wife has to pay tax on the value of her health insurance coverage for Susan, which amounts to about $6,200 per year down the drain.
10:48: Chairman Leahy asks Murray why marriage was so much more important to her than civil unions. Murray responds that everyone knows what marriage is, but civil unions are confusing to people. Leahy asks if DOMA protects families or if it’s the other way around. Murray notes a same-sex couple who adopted three kids in Albany, including one who is HIV+ because his mother was an intravenous drug user. DOMA undermines their ability to care for these children: they can’t file joint tax returns, and so they spend money they cannot spend on tutors or college for the children. Chairman Leahy asks Minnery if children benefit when their parents have diminished incomes under DOMA, and asks, aren’t they put at a disadvantage. Minnery argues that those children are better off with no home, then corrects himself (wow). Minnery keeps dancing around the question. Leahy repeats the question. Minnery acknowledges, yes, children are made worse off.
10:57: Sen. Grassley notes the Respect for Marriage Act would repeal Section 3 and Section 2. Asks Minnery if Section 2 has anything to do with benefits. Minnery notes that one’s financial situation remained the same before Section 2 and would remain the same afterwards. Notes Section 2 has to do only with states. Warns that if DOMA were to be repealed, then “presumably” same-sex marriages would have to be recognized in other states that have not enacted such laws (this is actually false). Repeats assertion that social science research “shows” kids are better off in households of opposite-sex parents (this is also false, and refuted by various professional medical associations).
11:03. Sen. Feinstein is given the gavel temporarily while Chairman Leahy steps out. Feinstein notes that the courts have ruled that marriage laws belong to the states. Reiterates that nothing in this bill would obligate any state or religion to recognize a same-sex marriage. Notes that same-sex couples are subject to thousands of dollars of additional taxes because of DOMA, in the area of gift tax, estate tax, divorce, filing taxes jointly. Notes that if a woman gives her legally married wife a piece of jewelry or electronic item, they have to pay gift taxes, whereas opposite-sex couples do not have to do so as married couples recognized by the government. Notes that veterans’ benefits are affected under DOMA, including cemetery burial for spouses of gay servicemembers.
Ed. note: Sen. Durbin just arrived.
11:10: Sen. Whitehouse notes the stories of several Rhode Island couples who are ineligible for Social Security benefits, filing taxes jointly, and other rights that heterosexual married couples have. Thanks Sen. Feinstein for her leadership.
Ed. note: Chairman Leahy is back.
11:15: Sen. Franken says he believes passage of the Respect for Marriage Act would be a historical moment akin to passage of the 19th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act. Notes Minnery cited an HHS report in his testimony, a report that Franken got ahold of and read. Asks Minnery whether a same-sex couple that has married and adopted kids would fall under the definition of a “nuclear family.” Minnery says no, a nuclear family means husband and wife. Franken says, “it doesn’t.” He begins to read a quote from the study that backs up his assertion, and asks how we can trust the rest of Minnery’s testimony if he screwed that up. Ouch.
He asks Murray a quick question and finishes.
11:21: Sen. Coons, who introduced the Respect for Marriage Act alongside Sen. Feinstein on March 16th, argue that it isn’t the business of the federal government to reach into American homes and decide who is married and who is not. This is a strong argument with regard to states’ rights. Notes that his own marriage did not “magically dissolve or disappear” because New York enacted marriage recognition for same-sex couples. As a religious person, does not believe his own faith empowers him to interpret the will of God. Asks an extremely smart question of the witnesses how DOMA has harmed them other than with respect to benefits. Sorbo notes that as a teacher for 35 years, he led the Pledge of Allegiance ending with “and liberty and justice for all,” knowing it was false. Also had to use the word “I” when asked if he was going on vacation, instead of “we,” knowing that would lead to questions on who the “we” was. Argues DOMA is an insult to dignity and equality. Criticizes supporters of DOMA as descendants of sexists, racists, and other people who sought to deny equality.
11:28: Sen. Blumenthal thanks the witnesses for giving a face and a voice to the “practical consequences” of DOMA. Nations, he says, are “judged by their capacity for growth,” and today’s hearing marks a moment of growth. Asks Sorbo to expand on how he was not able to access his IRA account after Colin died. Sorbo responds that the IRA was in Colin’s name, and they tried to transfer it over to his name, they spent hours and hours on the phone. He was eventually forced to withdraw at inopportune circumstances. If he were a woman, he could have deferred withdrawal for seven extra years — enough time to build up the account before withdrawal.
11:36: Sen. Durbin notes his support for the Defense of Marriage Act and his original co-sponsorship of the Respect for Marriage Act, quoting Abraham Lincoln, “I’d rather be right some of the time than wrong all of the time.” Reiterates that the Respect for Marriage Act does not mandate any religion to change its beliefs or any states to change its laws.
Ed. note: Sen. Feinstein notes a vote coming up at noon, explaining the need for her and others to leave, and adjourns the second panel, moving on to the third. Sen. Coons will lead the third and final panel. Sen. Schumer also returns.
11:42: Joe Solmonese of HRC notes, for the first time this hearing, the effects of DOMA on bi-national couples, like Courage members Stylianos Manolakakis and Robert Koehl of NYC, who spoke at yesterday’s press conference.
11:47: Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defense Fund pontificates about the definition of marriage and why government has an “interest” in marriage. Cites the Loving case, interestingly, and notes the Court’s assertion that marriage is vital to survival of the human race (not clear on why this is relevant to his argument).
11:52: Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center is up. His full testimony can be found here. The highlight which generated incredulous laughter is his assertion that the Respect for Marriage Act would enable polyagmous relationships, which he asserts to be “one of the current projects of the left.” Um.
One other note is that he argues the Respect for Marriage Act would force heterosexual taxpayers to “subsidize” the marriages of same-sex couples. It’s weird, because no one ever asks what the bottom line would look like if heterosexual couples were allowed to do something.
11:58: Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry notes the arc of history with respect to where things were in 1996 and where they are today. Notes the support of Rep. Bob Barr and President Clinton. Notes that thousands of couples are preparing to marry in New York, but, at the same time, will soon feel the sting of discrimination from the federal government.
12:05: Sen. Klobuchar, who publicly is supportive of the Respect for Marriage Act but refuses to co-sponsor, asks how the passage of time has affected the debate on same-sex marriage. Solmonese notes the testimony of the earlier panel.
12:12: Sen. Coons asks Joe about how DOMA has secondary negative effects on LGBT youth and culture. Joe notes societal disparity in places like hospital emergency rooms in most places across the country.
12:16: Finally, Sen. Schumer reads a statement and then adjourns the hearing. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. This thread will no longer update.
Ed. note: Courage Campaign’s statement on the hearing can be found below.
STATEMENT OF COURAGE CAMPAIGN CHAIR RICK JACOBS ON HISTORIC SENATE HEARING TO REPEAL DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT (DOMA)
Courage Campaign Leads the Grassroots Effort
Washington, D.C. – The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that has been blatantly discriminating against same-sex married couples for nearly 16 years was the focus of a first-ever Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on repealing the law today.
On Tuesday, Sen. Feinstein (D-California) and Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of the Courage Campaign, hosted a news conference to discuss ongoing efforts to repeal the law. They were joined by three same-sex couples who shared their stories of hardship under DOMA.
“These Republican senators, and any other senator who has not yet signed up to co-sponsor or support our bill to repeal DOMA have heard, and will continue to hear, thousands and thousands of stories of hardship from same-sex married couples from around the country,” said Jacobs. “We are tired of second-class, and in some cases, third-class citizenship in our own country. We pay taxes, we serve our communities and we work hard. We are entitled to the same rights, freedoms and benefits as other Americans. No more, no less.”
Gay couples in D.C., New York, and elsewhere now have the right to legally marry. However, same-sex married couples from every state in the U.S. are barred from 1,100 federal rights and privileges afforded to straight married couples. “The Respect for Marriage Act,” introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) on March 16 of this year, is a bill that would restore their rights and repeal DOMA. The Courage Campaign, a grassroots organizing network, launched a grassroots effort to support the Respect for Marriage Act.
Since March, Courage Campaign members have used direct contact, petitions and social media to urge four senators to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act. The Courage Campaign targeted Sens. Klobuchar, Kohl, Udall of New Mexico, and Bingaman and asked them to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act, all with success. Sen. Feinstein also held a conference call with Courage Campaign’s DOMA field captains (of which there are 75 in 43 states) earlier this year to thank them for their hard work and discuss next steps in the campaign.
Earlier this month, over 25,000 Courage members petitioned President Obama to formally endorse the Respect for Marriage Act. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced the White House’s unprecedented endorsement of the bill, in a rare move usually reserved only for legislation that has passed one house of Congress. This move underscores the urgency with which DOMA must be repealed.
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Courage Campaign is a multi-issue online organizing network that empowers more than 700,000 grassroots and netroots supporters to work for progressive change and full equality in California and across the country. Through a one-of-a-kind online tool called Testimony: Take A Stand, the Courage Campaign is chronicling the sights, sounds and stories of LGBT families and all who wage a daily struggle against discrimination across America. For more information about Testimony, please visit, http://www.couragecampaign.org/Testimony.