First-Ever Congressional Hearing on Repeal of DOMA Marriage Discrimination Law

July, 20, 2011, by Melanie Nathan,

(WASHINGTON, DC) – At today the US Senate Judiciary Committee held the  first-ever hearing on repealing the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act, ” highlighting the harms that the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” causes loving, committed same-sex couples and their families.

The Respect for Marriage Act, sponsored by Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and Representative Nadler (D-NY), would repeal DOMA, which treats married same-sex couples as legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government and denies them more than 1,000 federal protections related to marriage. The hearing came just four days before same-sex couples begin marrying in New York State.

”We have been together for 26 years and are honest, hard working, taxpaying individuals who care for their aging parents and face many of the same challenges every family does. We are just the same as every other American and should be afforded the same liberties and protections,” said Amy Shore, whose spouse Sherri works at NASA but is denied family health care benefits extended to heterosexual married couples. These health care benefits are critical to Amy and Sherri because Amy is disabled and Sherry has MS. Amy and Sherry now face foreclosure of their house and other serious financial difficulties because of the denial of fair and equal treatment.When Marvin Burrow’s partner of over 51 years Bill died, Marvin was denied Bill’s spousal pension benefits and spousal social security benefits – all because of DOMA – and consequently lost their home of 35 years. “This is what DOMA does to people. It shatters their lives at a time when they need stability and comfort the most,” said Burrows.

“All loving, committed couples deserve the basic freedom to marry, and their marriages should be recognized and respected not just in their home state but by our federal government. We are all Americans, and we urge Congress to pass the ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ forthwith,” said Stuart Gaffney, Marriage Equality USA’s Media Director.

Freedom to Marry founder and President Evan Wolfson called on Congress to put an end to the discriminatory law and return the federal government to its appropriate role of respecting marriages performed in the states.

Testifying before a panel of Senators and a crowded hearing room, Wolfson noted that fifteen years earlier, he was in a Hawaii courtroom representing couples seeking the freedom to marry in the historic case that launched the global marriage movement, as Congress was enacting the discriminatory federal law. He told the Senators:

“DOMA stigmatizes people by dividing those married at the state level into first-class marriages and second-class marriages for those the federal government doesn’t like. But in America, we don’t have second-class citizens, and we shouldn’t have second-class marriages either.”

“This Sunday, many will watch as joyous couples in New York State declare their love and have their commitment confirmed by the state. Yet as they join in marriage, these couples will experience first-hand the sting of discrimination by the federal government. They will endure the intangible yet very real pain of being branded a second-class citizen, and suffer the tangible harm of being excluded from the safety net of protections and responsibilities that other married couples cherish.”

“It is time for Congress to end this discrimination. It is time to pass the Respect for Marriage Act.”

Ron Wallen testified about the harm DOMA has inflicted on him after the death of his spouse. Wallen married his partner of 58 years, Tom Carrollo, in California before the freedom to marry was stripped away by Proposition 8. Carrollo died in March 2011. Because DOMA denies him access to the Social Security Survivor benefit, Wallen can no longer afford to live in the home he shared with his husband and, as a result, he is rushing to sell the home even as he answers condolence cards. Here are excerpts from his remarks:

“Tom and I played by the rules, as we pursued our own version of the American dream. We served our country; we paid our taxes; we volunteered; we maintained our home, and got married as soon as we were legally able to do so.”

“And yet, as I face a future without my spouse, it is hard to accept that it is the federal government that is throwing me out of my family home. Congress can fix this problem by repealing DOMA. It’s a discriminatory law against gay and lesbian couples who have assumed all the responsibilities of marriage. All we ask is to be treated fairly, just like other loving and committed married couples. I beg you to repeal this law.”

Statement by NCLR Federal Policy Director Maya Rupert:  “Today’s hearing exposed the severe burdens that this despicable law imposes on thousands of loving families across the country. Congress needs to pass the Respect for Marriage Act to end this shameful chapter in our nation’s history. DOMA harms families, stigmatizes our relationships as unworthy, and perpetuates a climate of hostility for all LGBT people, and it is long past time to repeal it.”

President Obama announced yesterday that he would sign the “Respect of Marriage Act” when it reaches his desk. The bill has 28 co-sponsors in the Senate and 118 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.

Ron Wallen: Denied Social Security Survivor Benefits, Losing Home After Death of Husband

Follow this link to view a video about Wallen’s story:

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