Task Force urges repeal of DOMA as Senate Judiciary Committee holds historic hearing

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force applauds the Senate Judiciary Committee for its historic hearing today on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It is the first such hearing on this issue. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey submitted written testimony and attended the hearing.

Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today on DOMA repeal. Photo credit: Kathy Plate

The hearing follows the House and Senate introduction of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, the 1996 law that discriminatorily denies same-sex married couples the federal rights and responsibilities of marriage.

In her testimony, Carey called DOMA “one of the most discriminatory and farthest-reaching laws ever to emerge against our community.”

Critical federal benefits — ranging from immigration sponsorship to the ability to take time off to care for a sick spouse — are denied to legally married couples on the basis of their sexual orientation due to DOMA.

This denial adversely affects the economic security of same-sex couples and their families at all stages of life. For example, children of same-sex parents cannot access Social Security survivor benefits upon the death of a non-biological, non-adoptive parent. With more than 250,000 children in the United States being raised by same-sex couples, these protections are of critical importance to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families.

Same-sex spouses also suffer at the end of their lives due to the denial of these benefits. For example, an individual who survives her same-sex spouse has to pay a larger share of taxes when she inherits from her spouse’s estate than does an individual who survives a spouse in an opposite-sex marriage.

In her testimony, Carey said:

The law is grossly unjust and places significant harm on far too many families in our country. It is shocking that in 2011, legally married couples in the United States are being singled out and selectively denied fundamental rights by their own federal government. Too many have been hurt for too long because of DOMA, and its repeal is long overdue.

The critical necessity of federal benefits is particularly true for marginalized people within the LGBT community and their children, who are more likely to live under the poverty line, and, therefore, need access to such benefits to create economic security. Data from the Williams Institute bear this out. It found that 31.6 percent of children being raised by black lesbians were found to be poor as compared to 9.4 percent of children with married, opposite-sex parents in general and 13.1 percent of married, opposite-sex black parents. The numbers are similar for Latina lesbians: nearly 32 percent of the children of these women are poor.

DOMA’s discriminatory effects hit home for many same-sex couples. For example, Ralph Cherry, a retired federal employee who has been in a 32-year-long relationship, cannot add his partner to his health insurance, and his partner would not be eligible for survivor benefits should Cherry die first. This is particularly acute because Cherry’s partner has a chronic health issue and is in severe pain.

Cherry writes:

Members of Congress: I am on the exact same Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan as you; imagine yourselves in this ridiculous position to know my frustration. The federal government is shooting itself in the foot with this outdated law, discouraging talented potential civil servants from applying for employment because they happen to be gay and can get humane treatment for their family members in the private sector.

Carey noted that such “stories of hardship under this law are heartbreaking. With the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, Congress would begin to close this ugly chapter in our nation’s history. It would end an egregious injustice against thousands of loving, committed couples who simply want the protections, rights and responsibilities already afforded other married couples.”

The time for the legislative repeal of DOMA is now, as an increased number of same-sex couples enter marriages in states ranging from Iowa to New York. Polls by Gallup, CNN and ABC News/Washington Post all have shown that majorities of Americans favor marriage equality.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force thanks U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for his leadership on calling these historic hearings and the numerous senators who support the Respect for Marriage Act.

Carey said:

Our country benefits when everyone is able to live their lives free from discrimination, and the repeal of DOMA is one critical step to this end.

Read her full testimony here.