National Press Club

Feinstein advocates for bill to repeal federal marriage statute

July 20, 2011 | By William Miller |

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Congressional momentum is building to abolish the 15-year-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., principal sponsor of a repeal bill, at a July 19 Newsmaker.

Speaking the day before Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on DOMA and gay marriage, Feinstein said the session will climax “a landmark year in equality” for same-sex couples who have been hurt by DOMA, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

The hearings follow congressional passage earlier this year of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and last month’s decision by a federal bankruptcy court in California that DOMA is unconstitutional.

DOMA, which also prohibits federal recognition of gay marriage, “is discrimination, plain and simple,” Feinstein said. “I hope the hearings clear away the cobwebs and make the American people understand that.”

Feinstein pointed out that DOMA prevents same-sex couples from taking advantage of more than 1,000 federal laws and protections that are “afforded to married couples but are not afforded to legally married same-sex couples in states that have approved same-sex marriages.”

She said that same-sex couples are unable, for example, to file joint federal income taxes and are denied Social Security spousal benefits.

The veteran California legislator, who took no questions after her remarks, did not comment on chances for passage this year.

“But this is not a cause that we are going to drop,” Feinstein said. “If we do not succeed in this session, we will try again next year. And if we don’t succeed then, we’ll try the year after that.”

Another speaker at the Newsmaker, Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of Courage Campaign, an online advocacy group building grassroots support for DOMA repeal, declined to predict a date for passage. “But we’ve made huge progress,” he said.

Besides the Senate hearings, he pointed to the fact that Feinstein, a respected Senate veteran, is shepherding the repeal legislation. Moreover, he said, the bill has gained 28 Senate co-sponsors.

That’s twice as many senators as the 14 (one of them Feinstein) who voted against DOMA when it passed in 1996, he noted. And many former GOP legislators, he said, have taken up the cause “after they leave office.”

Feinstein and Jacobs were joined at the Newsmaker by three same-sex couples who have faced hurdles because of DOMA.

Beth Vorro and Beth Coderre described the problems of having been married in a state that allows same-sex marriages (Massachusetts) but now living in one that does not (Rhode Island).

Kathleen Cumiskey and Robin Garber, of Staten Island, NY, explained how they must carry a box of documents – their wills and passports, for example – every time they travel.

They do that, they said, in fear of being denied rights heterosexual married couples are given simply by identifying themselves ad “husband and wife.”

Robert Koehl and Stylianos Manolakakis of New York related their reluctance to marry because of the difficulties that Manolakakis, an immigrant, is having in renewing his visa.