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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy: markup of DOMA repeal in the queue

Here’s some good news — The Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598), legislation that would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act that was enacted in 1996 will head for markup next month, according to Senator Patrick Leahy, who serves as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Freedom to Marry):

Thousands of loving and committed couples have gotten married in New York and other states since the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act in July, and all of them are now enduring direct harms because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and its double standard,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry. “It is time for Congress to repeal DOMA’s discrimination, and we are pleased that Senator Leahy is moving the Respect for Marriage Act forward.”

Freedom to Marry has played a leading role in boosting the number of cosponsors on the bill. From its introduction, cosponsors on the Senate version have grown from 18 to 29 and on the House version, from 108 to 128, which already surpasses last year’s total of 120.

In July, Wolfson testified at the US Senate Judiciary Committee’s first-ever hearing on repealing DOMA, calling on Congress to put an end to the discriminatory law and return the federal government to its appropriate role of respecting marriages performed in the states. In addition, Ron Wallen testified about the harm DOMA has inflicted on him after the death of his spouse. Wallen married his partner of 58 years, Tom Carrollo, in California before the freedom to marry was stripped away by Proposition 8. Carrollo died in March 2011. Because DOMA denies him access to the Social Security Survivor benefit, Wallen can no longer afford to live in the home he shared with his husband and, as a result, he is rushing to sell the home.

DOMA, which was enacted in 1996, deprives legally married same-sex couples of federal respect for their marriage, meaning that they are denied the more than a thousand protections that the federal government accords all other married couples – including Social Security survivor benefits, tax fairness, access to health coverage, and recognition of family ties for immigration purposes. DOMA is being challenged in several court cases around the country, and was held unconstitutional last year by a federal judge appointed by President Nixon.

Comment from HRC:

“This markup is an incredible step toward ending federal marriage discrimination that causes real harm to American families,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Chairman Leahy and Senator Feinstein have been leaders in this fight and we applaud them for continuing the momentum against this unjust law….The federal government shouldn’t be in the business of picking which marriages it likes and which it doesn’t, but that’s exactly what DOMA does,” said Solmonese. “The reality of DOMA is heart-wrenching discrimination against loving families.”

Bill Co-Sponsor Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:

“I applaud Chairman Leahy for taking these steps to end the discrimination that is currently enshrined into U.S. law,” Gillibrand said. “Marriage is the true foundation for strong families. Every loving, committed couple deserves the basic human right to get married, start a family, and have access to all the same rights and privileges that my husband and I enjoy. No politician should stand in the way of this fact.”

Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs:

“DOMA enshrines second-class citizenship for millions in a first-class nation,” said Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of the Courage Campaign. “We are pleased that at long last the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the bill to end DOMA. We thank Sens. Leahy and Feinstein for leading with conviction on this bill.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding