Press

Marriage Hearing Set For Wednesday, May 15th

Date: 
May 13, 1996

Gay and lesbian families, under harsh attack this year in state legislatures across the country, are bracing themselves for this week's House hearing on the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act." The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force denounced the measure as part of an all-out attack by the Right-wing on all non-"traditional" families and an anti-gay political ploy intended to mobilize the base of Right-wing groups and at the same time undermine gay support of President Clinton. President Clinton has gone on record as opposing gay marriage. This opposition, according to NGLTF, could alienate gay voters, who overwhelmingly voted for Clinton in 1992, from supporting him in November.

"The Right-wing groups behind this measure are as shrewd as they are pernicious," stated NGLTF executive director Melinda Paras. "Along with doing real damage to real families, this is a blatant ploy to alienate gay voters from President Clinton. The Right is forcing Clinton's hand on the issue of gay marriage because they know his opposition to this hot button issue could alienate one of his most important constituencies," added Paras.

Data from the recently released NGLTF report Power at the Polls: The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Vote, supports this assertion. According to the report, "in the 1994 midterm elections, when gay issues received less attention than in 1992, and when disappointment was still fresh from the Clinton Administration's support of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and its failure to support the supreme Court legal challenge to the Colorado ballot initiative, the self-identified gay, lesbian and bisexual vote shrunk by more than one third."

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on The Constitution has scheduled a hearing on H.R. 3396 for Wednesday, May 15 at 1:30 pm. The Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL), will hear testimony on the measure which was introduced last Wednesday by Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA). A similar measure, S.B. 1740, was introduced in the Senate the next day by Senator Don Nickles (R-OK). The first co-sponsor to sign on to the bill was presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Senator Robert Dole (R-KS).

Same-gender couples are currently not allowed the right to marry anywhere in the nation. Should they be allowed the right to marry in the future, this legislation would deny these couples benefits provided to heterosexual married couples. In addition to denying legally married same-gender couples the rights accorded their heterosexual counterparts, the bill would seriously undermine the "Full Faith and Credit Clause" of the U.S. Constitution.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the nation's oldest national gay and lesbian civil rights organization, has been working with activists throughout the country in battling state anti-marriage measures, beginning in South Dakota in 1995 when the first of these measures was introduced. The Task Force produced the widely used organizing manual To Have and To Hold which has since been spotlighted by a national Right-wing group, The Report, in its recently released video The Ultimate Target of the Gay Agenda: Same Sex Marriages. The work of the Task Force in defeating anti-marriage legislation has also received the attention of another right-wing group Focus on the Family.

Though gays and lesbians are denied the right to legally marry in all 50 states, anti-marriage legislation has been introduced in 34 states this year. Eight states have passed such legislation into law. They are AK, AZ, GA, ID, KS, OK, SD, and UT. Nine states have anti-marriage legislation pending (CA, DE, IL, MI, MO, NY, PA, SC, and TN). Equally important is that in seventeen states this year, anti-marriage legislation was introduced but has since been defeated, withdrawn, or killed. Those states are AL, CO, FL, HI, IA, KY, ME, MD, MN, MS, NM, RI, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY.

Noted historian and author and gay and lesbian families expert John D'Emilio, director of NGLTF's Policy Institute, condemned the effort by Congressional Republicans, including Senator Robert Dole, to undermine gay and lesbian families in their purported attempt to "defend marriage." In the attached statement, citing statistics on the number of gay and lesbian families with children, D'Emilio calls on Congressional leaders to turn back this effort to scapegoat gay and lesbian families.

Statement of Dr. John D'Emilio on the "Defense of Marriage" Act

Dr. D'Emilio is the Director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute

Bashing gays, lesbians, and their families has become a key method through which the religious right-wing builds its strength. Concerned Women of America launched a major fundraising campaign in response to the National Education Association's endorsement of gay, lesbian, and bisexual History Month. Lou Sheldon of the Tradition Values Coalition won a commitment from House Speaker Newt Gingrich that resulted in Congressional hearings on parenting, values and the schools, and then milked those hearings for publicity. The Defense of Marriage Act, which Sheldon helped draft, is no different.

So while having everything to do with strengthening the base and building the coffers of these extremist groups, the Defense of Marriage Act does nothing to strengthen the institution of marriage. Instead it attacks the integrity of lesbian and gay families. Throughout the United States, millions of lesbians and gay men have formed loving, committed relationships. They are caring for each other in good times and bad, contributing to the welfare of their communities, and paying taxes to support government services at every level. Yet they are systematically denied the benefits and rights of marriage. Lesbians and gay men can be turned away at the hospital when a partner has had an accident or illness, lack access to "family" health coverage and other forms of insurance, are denied the benefits of inheritance and taxation that surviving heterosexual spouses automatically enjoy, have no rights to a range of government benefits, and cannot make use of immigration law provisions to secure entry for partners who are citizens of other countries.

Large numbers of lesbians and gay men are also raising children. Estimates of the number of lesbian mothers range from about 1 to 5 million; of gay fathers, from 1 to 3 million; and of children of lesbian and gay parents, from 6 to 14 million. Data gathered from exit polling after the 1992 presidential election found that while one-third of heterosexual voters had children under 18 living with them, one-quarter of lesbian, gay, or bisexual voters did as well. In other words, a population not thought to be at all involved with parenting, is only 25% less likely to be raising children than heterosexual adults. The "Defense of Marriage" proponents claim to have the best interests of children and their families in mind. Yet, their legislative solution will penalize and stigmatize the millions of children with lesbian and gay parents.

The anti-family tentacles of the Right-wing extremists do not stop at gay families. They reach in and seek to undermine other "non-traditional" families as well. The Right uses a rhetoric of traditional family values to condemn the immorality of single mothers and to campaign for "welfare reform" that is punitive. It attacks government programs such as publicly funded day care for working mothers who need it. The Right supports a "parental rights" movement that would undo gains made to prevent battering of women and child abuse.

NGLTF urges all members of congress to turn back this mean spirited, misleading, and deceptive effort. The Halls of Congress should not be used as an election forum to scapegoat gays and lesbians and divide the American people.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is a progressive organization that has supported grassroots organizing and pioneered in national advocacy since 1973. Since its inception, NGLTF has been at the forefront of virtually every major initiative for lesbian and gay rights. In all its efforts, NGLTF helps to strengthen the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement at the state level while connecting these activities to a national vision for change.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.