A 1996 federal marriage law is unconstitutional and should be repealed, Sen. Dianne Feinstein told a news conference that featured gay couples who have insurance, visa and legal problems because of the law.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and "ensure respect for state regulation of marriage."
As one of 14 senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, "I thought even then, this is unconstitutional and wrong," Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat, said Tuesday at the National Press Club.
In March, Mrs. Feinstein and several Democratic colleagues introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which strikes the DOMA language and says that for purposes of federal law, "an individual shall be considered married if that individual's marriage is valid" where it was obtained.
Mrs. Feinstein pledged to keep fighting for her bill. "We're in this for the long march, not just the short hop," she said Tuesday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that President Obama is "proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act."
However, Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who is scheduled to testify Wednesday in defense of DOMA, said Mrs. Feinstein's bill would "pave the way for polygamous and other polyamorous unions."
Without DOMA's definition of marriage, the arguments for same-sex marriage will be applied in those cases too, Mr. Whelan said on National Review Online. Mrs. Feinstein's bill would not respect marriage, but would instead "empty the term of any core content," he added.
Rick Jacobs, founder of Courage Campaign, and three gay couples spoke at Tuesday's press conference.
DOMA allows any state or territory to "disrespect my marriage," said Kathleen Cumiskey of Staten Island, N.Y. She and wife Robin Garber carry a box of documents "everywhere" to prove that they have a legal relationship.
Hunter College professor Robert Koehl and Stylianos Manolakakis said DOMA creates visa problems for their 15-year relationship, and federal employee Beth Vorro said DOMA forces her psychotherapist-wife Beth Coderre to get private health insurance because she cannot be added to a federal health policy.
"I think, as Rosa Parks might say, it's time to get up from the back of the bus and assume our seats among the rest of our fellow human beings," Mrs. Coderre said.
DOMA passed Congress with strong bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Clinton. It defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It also tells states they do not have to recognize out-of-state same-sex unions.
DOMA arose amid credible concerns that one state court would effectively change marriage laws in all 50 states. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that, under nondiscrimination law, the state could no longer deny gay couples marriage licenses. The high court sent the case back to a lower court for further action.
This landmark court decision raised the likelihood of gay marriage being legalized in Hawaii — as well as questions about the national implications of gay couples traveling to Hawaii, getting married and seeking legal recognition of their marriages back home.
DOMA addressed that concern, and 40 states, including Hawaii, enacted their own DOMAs, either through voter referendum or their legislatures.
Six states and the District have now legalized gay marriage, setting up the kind of scenario foreseen 15 years ago. "Equality now stops at the border of our state," Mrs. Cumiskey said.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration declared DOMA unconstitutional and ceased defending it in several lawsuits. House Republicans responded by hiring a private law firm to defend the law.
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