| Jul 20 2011
It is great news that gay couples in New York now have the right to legally marry.
It is wrong, however, that those same married couples will not be able to enjoy the federal rights and privileges afforded to straight married couples.
The reason is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a bill passed in 1996 that denies the rights and benefits provided by the federal government to legally married same-sex couples.
Just a few months ago, I introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill to repeal DOMA once and for all.
The bill is simple. It would strike DOMA from federal law and free the federal government to provide basic stability, security and fairness to thousands of same-sex couples in this country.
And I am very pleased that President Obama has endorsed our legislation to repeal DOMA and right this wrong.
Today the Senate Judiciary Committee held the very first congressional hearing on the repeal of DOMA. I hope it will open the minds of many of my colleagues about repealing DOMA.
This is the key argument I made at today's hearing:
Family law has traditionally been the preserve of state law and therefore it varies from state to state.
Marriage is the preserve of state law. Divorce is the preserve of state law. Adoption is the preserve of state law. Inheritance rights are the preserve of state law.
The single exception is DOMA.
The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates there are between 50,000 and 80,000 married same-sex couples in the states that have approved same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.
The number of couples will significantly grow now that New York State recently granted same-sex couples the freedom to marry.
In my state of California, an estimated 18,000 couples were wed when same-sex marriage was allowed in 2008.
These couples live their lives like all married people.
They share financial expenses, they raise children together and they care for each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, until death they do part.
But because of DOMA, these couples cannot take advantage of the more than 1,100 federal protections available to every other married couple in this country.
DOMA denies these couples the rights and benefits to 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 a spouse passes and wants to leave his or her possessions to another.
In fact, many people are impacted precisely when they are at their most vulnerable: after the death of their spouse or when their spouse is seriously ill. This discrimination is wrong, plain and simple, and it impacts so many couples around the country.
When I introduced the Respect for Marriage Act earlier this year, three couples came forward with stories or commitment to each other and to their children. Today the committee heard from more married couples about how DOMA has impacted their lives.
The most effective weapon we have at our disposal is storytelling. These stories of married couples who are denied the stability and the protections guaranteed by federal law will help build momentum to repeal DOMA and right this wrong.
The Courage Campaign, a 700,000-member grassroots organization based in California, is working state-by-state to gain support and gather stories.
This has been an historic year in equality for LGBT Americans. Congress finally repealed the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy and a federal court recently found provisions of DOMA unconstitutional.
But we still have more to do.
Repealing DOMA won't be easy. It will be a long road. But it is the right thing to do and I look forward to leading this fight in the United States Senate.
I hope you will share your story--whether you are gay or straight--and join me in this fight.