Supporters and opponents of gay marriage cited similar values as they argued the merits of a proposal to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee meeting today.
Both sides in the repeal debate cited equality, states’ rights, public opinion and the importance of marriage to support their positions.
The proposed Respect for Marriage Act would let the federal government extend benefits such as tax programs, Social Security and health-insurance coverage to same-sex married couples, ending the 15-year-old law’s ban on recognition of these unions. The proposal wouldn’t require states to legalize same-sex marriages.
Six states -- Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York -- and the District of Columbia have decided to allow gay marriage since the 1996 federal law was enacted during President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Andrew Sorbo, a retired teacher living in Connecticut, told the committee that he had to move from a house to a condominium after his husband died and he wasn’t granted Social Security benefits.
“The Defense of Marriage Act stigmatizes by dividing married couples at the state level into first-class marriages and second-class marriages for those the federal government doesn’t like,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, which supports gay marriage.
David Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious-freedom group that opposes gay marriage, said that children in same-sex households are less likely to be healthy and well-adjusted.
“Legislators who genuinely want to protect marriage should defend traditional marriage, not undermine it,” said Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, which supports retaining the Defense of Marriage Act.
President Barack Obama, who has endorsed civil unions but hasn’t backed same-sex marriages, supports the repeal, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday during a briefing. The Obama administration announced in February that it wouldn’t continue to defend the 1996 law in court challenges.
The repeal legislation “would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples,” Carney said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Pelham in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org.