The US House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing Friday called “Defending Marriage” on the Defense of Marriage Act. The hearing was held in reaction to the Obama administration’s February announcement that they will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court on the grounds that it considers the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, convened by Republican House Speaker John Boehner (OH) voted 3-2 in March to authorize the House to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court.
Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-8), ranking member on the subcommittee and chief sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, testified against the law at the hearing. In part, he said, “Far from demeaning, trivializing, or destroying the institution of marriage, lesbian and gay couples have embraced this time-honored tradition and the commitment and serious legal duties of marriage. The exclusion of any married couples from programs like Social Security defies logic…The fact that DOMA carves out an entire class of married citizens based on sexual orientation also violates constitutional equal protection guarantees.”
Maggie Gallagher, Chair of the National Organization for Marriage, testified, “This is the rationale for the national definition of marriage proposed by Congress in passing DOMA: civil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing,” She continued, “…If we accept, as DOMA explicitly does, that this is a core public purpose of marriage, then treating same-sex unions as marriage makes little sense.”
DOMA, which was enacted in 1996, defines marriage as between one man and one woman and denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages, as well as the legal benefits attached to marriage, including Social Security survivors’ benefits, family and medical leave, and immigration rights.
In July 2009, Massachusetts became the first state to challenge the constitutionality of DOMA in a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Martha Coakley. A second suit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, was filed in July 2009 on behalf of seven gay and lesbian married couples and three widowers by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. In that case, Federal Judge Joseph Tauro agreed that DOMA violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
Currently, same sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, DC. Six states, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii allow same-sex couples to form civil unions or domestic partnerships, which carry some, but not all of the benefits and privileges of marriage. Currently, a bill that will establish civil unions in Delaware is awaiting the expected signature of the state’s governor. Civil union legislation is also currently pending in Colorado.