Nov 10 2011

Feinstein’s DOMA Repeal Bill Passes Judiciary Committee

Provides 1,100 federal rights, benefits to legally married, same-sex couples

Washington—Legislation authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

Senator Feinstein’s Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598) would strike DOMA from federal law and provide legally married, same-sex couples the same federal benefits, rights and privileges as other married Americans.

“DOMA was wrong when it passed in 1996 and it is wrong now. There are 131,000 legally married, same-sex couples in this country who are denied more than 1,100 federal rights and protections because of this discriminatory law,” Feinstein said.  “I don’t know how long the battle for full equality will take, but we are on the cusp of change, and today’s historic vote in the committee is an important step forward.”

Because of DOMA, there are more than 1,100 federal rights and protections that are denied to lawfully married same-sex couples.  Specifically, these couples cannot:

  • File joint federal income taxes and claim certain deductions;
     
  • Receive spousal benefits under Social Security;
     
  • Take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act; or
     
  • Obtain the protections of the estate tax when one spouse passes and wants to leave his or her possessions to another.

In addition to Senator Feinstein, the Respect for Marriage Act currently has 30 Senate cosponsors. Her legislation is supported by President Barack Obama.

Following are Senator Feinstein’s remarks today:

“Mr. Chairman, I believe DOMA is discriminatory and should be stricken in its entirety from federal law. The Respect for Marriage Act will do that, and I urge my colleagues to report this bill to the floor cleanly, without any amendments.

When DOMA passed 15 years ago, no state permitted same-sex marriage. Today, 6 states and the District of Columbia do: Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

So, today there are 131,000-plus legally married same-sex couples in this country.

These changes reflect a firmly-established legal principle in this country: marriage is a legal preserve of the states.

DOMA infringes on this state authority by requiring the federal government to disregard state law, and deny more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits to which all other legally married couples are entitled.

Last week, Mr. Chairman, 70 businesses and other organizations joined in an amicus brief in the First Circuit in a case challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. They include Xerox, Exelon, CBS, Aetna, Time Warner, NIKE, Starbucks, Google, Microsoft, among many others.

They include legal and professional associations as well as three cities. The brief clearly indicates how DOMA is causing real problems in its discriminatory nature.

First, DOMA strips tax-free health coverage from spouses in same-sex marriages. This affects the employee’s tax burden, increasing it on average by over $1,000 a year. It also increases the employer’s payroll tax burden, which is based on the employee’s wages.

DOMA strips spousal retirement protection under ERISA from same-sex married couples.

DOMA denies a same-sex spouse the right to continue health coverage under COBRA. It requires businesses to maintain two sets of books, which these petitioners say has produced additional cost – one for married employees with same-sex spouses, another for married employees with different-sex spouses.

It has compelled companies to hire costly compliance specialists. And, it imposes even greater costs on small businesses, which cannot afford outside experts.

So, I believe it’s pretty clear that the time has come to repeal DOMA. When DOMA was passed, no one was affected, because no one was legally married, because no state had passed a law. That’s changed now. We have 7 states, we have 131,000 married couples, and the discriminatory nature of DOMA is showing up throughout the business and professional communities of this country.

So I urge my colleagues to support this bill, end this discrimination, and vote no, please, on all amendments.”

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