Senate and House Democrats urged their colleagues at a Wednesday hearing to support a bill that would repeal the federal law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, so federal benefits and rights can flow to gay couples who are legally married under a state law.
"I believe it is important that we encourage and sanction committed relationships," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who called the hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
But Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, said that "George Orwell would have marveled at that name" of the Respect for Marriage Act.
A "real" respect-for-marriage bill would "restore marriage as it has been known: as between one man and one woman," Mr. Grassley said. "This bill would undermine, not restore, marriage" by repealing DOMA.
The hearing, held a few days before New York starts to allow gay marriages, was anchored around testimonies of legally married gay couples who were denied the status of married couples for such federal-law purposes as immigration and taxation.
DOMA defines marriage, for purposes of federal law, as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."
Retired Connecticut school principal Andrew Sorbo said he could inherit his late husband's IRA, but not his Veterans Administration pension check. Vermont lawyer Susan Murray said she and her wife recently paid $792 in higher taxes because they cannot file as a married couple.
Ronald Wallen said that when his husband died in March, Mr. Wallen could not claim his higher Social Security benefits because of DOMA. This, plus the loss of a pension, has forced Mr. Wallen to undergo a "panic sale" of his California home at age 77. "I beg you to repeal" DOMA "and allow all married couples the same protections," he said.
But witnesses for DOMA said the 1996 law reiterated long-standing definitions of marriage in U.S. law, and clarified to states that, despite the reciprocal Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, they could not be forced to recognize gay marriages from states where they are allowed.
DOMA should not be overturned because it reflects the will of most Americans, as shown by 31 state referendum votes, all of which rejected gay marriage, said Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family.
The Respect for Marriage Act, introduced in March by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has 27 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
Republicans noted that many prominent Democrat leaders were among the 85 senators and 342 representatives who voted for DOMA in 1996, such as Mr. Leahy, then-Reps. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, and then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden.
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Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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