WASHINGTON — A congressman from New York recently introduced a bill called the Respect for Marriage Act, winning support from an initial 90 co-sponsors. Advocates speak about the “immorality” of the situation the legislation seeks to address.
But rather than seeking to protect the traditional definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, the bill, H.R. 3567, would completely eliminate the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
In addition to repealing Doma, the Respect for Marriage Act would require federal recognition of any legal same-sex “marriage” and extend all federal rights and benefits to same-sex couples.
Doma is also being challenged in federal court, and while the Obama Justice Department is defending it as a matter of protocol, Obama has voiced his opposition to the law.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, and homosexual advocates say that Doma, signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton, discriminates against same-sex couples.
“This legislation would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act … which discriminated against lawfully married same-sex couples,” Nadler said. “Doma singles out legally married same-sex couples for discriminatory treatment under federal law.”
“Doma is and has always been an immoral attack on same-sex couples, our families and our fundamental humanity,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It is long past time to repeal Doma, which has left a moral scar on this country.”
But Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, thinks otherwise.
“That is so profoundly wrong,” he said. “The moral scar is that we had to resort to Doma to try to protect a vital human institution that is in the best interests of our children and country. The tragedy is that we had to devote energy to something like that, which should have been self-evident to our lawmakers.”
“Homosexual activists and their congressional supporters are making the outrageous claim that protecting marriage is a form of discrimination,” said Shari Rendall, director of legislation and public policy with Concerned Women for America. “But the reverse is true — failing to protect marriage and overturning marriage laws will result in reverse discrimination against people who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
President Obama has made it clear that he wants Doma repealed.
“The Department of Justice has filed a response to a legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged,” wrote the president. “This brief makes clear, however, that my administration believes that the act is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress. I have long held that Doma prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits.”
The president’s actions have drawn criticism, even from supporters.
“It seems contradictory for the president to have talked about being for civil union and against gay ‘marriage,’ while supporting the destruction of Doma, which affirms the very institution he hails so loudly,” said Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md. “‘What does he really believe?’ is the perennial question that rises from the religious community across many denominational boundaries.”
Earlier this summer, Jackson and a contingent of fellow black leaders sent a letter to the president expressing their concern.
“The danger for your administration would be that many of these people may write you off as being anti-traditional Christianity and may decide to voice their displeasure at the ballot box,” wrote the coalition. “All of us have heard a growing discontent with your social stances in all communities, even the black church world.”
Those who oppose the Nadler bill are concerned that it would weaken state laws protecting marriage.
An analysis by the Alliance Defense Fund found that repealing Doma would open the door for litigation to force states to recognize “marriages” between same-sex couples.
Marriage amendments and other measures defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman have passed in more than 30 states.
According to Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA who is advising the Census Bureau, there were an estimated 100,000 official same-sex “marriages,” civil unions and domestic partnerships in 2008.
“Many of those in favor of this bill argue that the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act is not intended to force same-sex ‘marriage’ on all the states,” said Brian Raum, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund. “If that is not the intent, its supporters wouldn’t be seeking to repeal the section of Doma that makes it clear that states have a right to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Defending Marriage in Maine
The battle for the institution of marriage is in full swing in the state of Maine. Voters there were denied the ability to vote on same-sex “marriage” when legislators passed a law this spring granting homosexuals the “right” to marry.
Concerned citizens gathered more than 100,000 signatures to have a “citizen’s veto” placed on the statewide ballot in November. That measure asks voters whether they would like to repeal the law, restoring the state’s understanding of the definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
Portland Bishop Richard Malone was at the forefront in the fight even before LD 1020 was passed.
“We oppose attempts to grant the legal status of marriage to a relationship between persons of the same sex,” said Bishop Malone. “A same-sex union can never realize the unique and full potential that the marital relationship expresses.”
Marc Mutty, director of the diocesan office of public affairs and chairman of the multidenominational Stand for Marriage Maine campaign, which is fighting to repeal the law, said Bishop Malone “sees marriage as the cornerstone of our society, and we, as Catholics, have an obligation to support marriage.”
Scott Fish, communications director for Stand for Marriage Maine, says that the opposition is well funded and well organized.
“Money is coming in from California, New York, Connecticut, as well as the AFL-CIO [American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations] and SEIU [Service Employees International Union],” said Fish. “They even have a vacation program, where they tell their supporters, ‘Come spend a week in Maine and help us make same-sex ‘marriage’ legal.’”
“We’re up against a multimillion dollar campaign,” said Mutty. “What happens in Maine will impact the country.”
Early polling has shown that those who want the law repealed have a slight lead over supporters of the law.
Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.