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Pelosi: DOMA Repeal Not Top Priority

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday, after touring Project Open Hand here in San Francisco, that she has higher priorities than the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The speaker said that her two legislative priorities for the LGBT community are passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the federal hate crimes bill; the latter was introduced in Congress earlier this month. She indicated action on those items would occur before any effort to repeal DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex relationships and allows states that do not provide equal rights to gay couples the ability to ignore such marriages granted in other states.

The speaker’s opinion appears to conflict with earlier reporting by Kerry Eleveld, the Advocate’s Washington correspondent, that Congressional Democrats are seeking to find a way to quickly repeal at least the third part of DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from conferring the 1,100 benefits of marriage to same-sex couples even if their state has recognized their union.

Discussions around repealing a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages have heated up in the wake of recent legal challenges filed and the addition of two new states legalizing same-sex marriage.

Legislative aides familiar with the discussions say a handful of congressional leaders have been hashing out the details of the legislation, which would accomplish two goals: repeal section 3 of DOMA as it relates to the federal government’s ability to confer some 1,100 federal benefits on same-sex partners; and provide a way for same-sex couples living in states that do not allow them to marry legally to access the same federal benefits afforded to heterosexual spouses.

Who among the Congressional leadership is acting in defiance of the speaker’s priorities?

According to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, legislators involved in the planning include senators Christopher Dodd, Russ Feingold, and Chuck Schumer, and representatives Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank, Jerrold Nadler, and Jared Polis.

It’s most interesting that this work is targeted at two groups among those who have a same-sex union:

[Senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union Christopher] Anders explained that the two key disparate groups legislators are keeping in mind are those couples who are the most mobile and those who are the least. For instance, they want to cover couples who live in Massachusetts or Iowa and marry but then choose to move to another state for a job or to care for a family member or to retire.

"But there are also lots of people who are living in the state they were born in," Anders said, "and it doesn’t seem that people should be locked out of federal protections simply because they can’t move and may not have the resources or mobility to do so."

Having lived a fairly mobile adult life myself (in Virginia, North Carolina, DeeCee, Maryland, & California) I had not considered the consequences of marriage equality recognition for those who live, and may choose to always live, in states that may never recognize their union. If the federal government is going to acknowledge and provide federal benefits to people in a committed, caring relationship, should that couple be punished just because they live in a state that doesn’t officiate their union?

No — they should be treated fairly. Federal benefits should apply to all, whether the relationship is solemnized in the state where you currently live or not.

And the Speaker needs to organize her priorities in a way that will enable Congress to get ALL this LGBT work done this year. Otherwise, we’ll start hearing the "too much, too fast, too soon" argument applied to the 2010 midterms.

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Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge