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DOMA repeal introduced in House by Nadler, Polis, Baldwin, no Barney Frank
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DOMA repeal introduced in House by Nadler, Polis, Baldwin, no Barney Frank

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Congressional heavyweights Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Barney Frank (D-MA) squared off over Nadler's Respect for Marriage Act, introduced in the US House of Representatives on September 15.

Nadler's bill would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in its entirety, and require federal recognition of same-sex marriages concluded in states where they are legal. No companion bill has yet been introduced in the Senate, but Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is reportedly being lobbied by activists to sponsor such a bill.

'The full repeal of DOMA is long overdue,' a beaming Nadler told a press conference in front of the US Capitol. "When DOMA was passed in 1996, its full harm may not have been apparent to all members of Congress because same-sex couples were not yet able to marry. Now, in 2009, we have tens of thousands of married same-sex couples in this country, living openly, raising families and paying taxes in states that have granted them the right to marry, and it has become abundantly clear that, while the sky has not fallen on the institution of marriage, as DOMA supporters had claimed, DOMA is causing these couples concrete and lasting harm."

"Discrimination against committed couples and stable families is terrible federal policy," Nadler continued. "But, with a president who is committed to repealing DOMA and a broad, diverse coalition of Americans on our side, we now have a real opportunity to remove from the books this obnoxious and ugly law."

Nadler - who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties - was joined as sponsor of the legislation by openly Gay Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and by Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI), civil rights veteran John Lewis (D-GA), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Barbara Lee (D-CA). In all, 91 members of the House have signed on as sponsors, including the entire Connecticut delegation.

Barney Frank - the longest serving openly Gay Representative, and chair of the powerful House Financial Services Committee - was noticeably absent from the list of sponsors, however.

"Come on, let's be honest with each other," Frank said in an interview with SGN soon after the bill was introduced on September 15. "We don't have the votes for DOMA [repeal] now - and the sponsors know that we don't. It's a mistake [to introduce the bill]."

Frank worried that the portability provisions in Nadler's bill - what Nadler calls the "certainty provision" - might endanger other pending legislation.

"It's a mistake to put in a provision that someone who's married in Massachusetts can move to Ohio and still be married," he told SGN. "Given that we don't have the votes for DOMA [repeal] now, introducing that argument just engenders controversy and opposition. It's a mistake to rekindle that debate."

According to Frank, there are four pieces of pending legislation that should take priority over DOMA repeal.

"Hate crimes and domestic partnership benefits for federal employees are in good shape," he said. "An inclusive ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and [repeal of] Don't Ask, Don't Tell [DADT] are in the balance right now. We will have a majority for them in the House. Everyone should now be lobbying their senators [for ENDA and repeal of DADT]."

Nadler dismissed Franks' argument in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

"Mr. Frank knows better than anyone that our opponents will falsely claim that any DOMA repeal bill 'exports marriage' in an effort to generate fear and misunderstanding," Nadler said. "But the dishonest tactics of our opponents should not stop us from aggressively pushing to end this horrific discrimination now, as is the consensus of the nation's top LGBT groups who all support this approach."

"Our bill does not tell any state who it must marry or what marriage it must recognize under state law," Nadler continued. "Our bill allows states to continue deciding those questions, while ensuring uniform access to critically important federal responsibilities and rights that hinge on marriage and upon which all married couples should be able to rely."

Nadler said supporters of DOMA repeal intend to move forward with or without Frank's endorsement.

"We are going to move this bill when we can," he said. "We have a big task ahead of us of - education and clarification and so forth - but 90 co-sponsors in a couple of days is an incredible show of support, so we're going to do that regardless of that fact that Barney has chosen for the moment not to be a sponsor."

Frank told SGN that he sees more results coming from one of the several lawsuits challenging DOMA on constitutional grounds.

"A lawsuit, at this point, has a better chance to win," he said.

"There's a lawsuit introduced by GLAD [Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders] in Massachusetts [Gill v OPM] alleging that DOMA violates Equal Protection," Frank continued. "It's very good lawyering. Very thoughtful. Much better than the California people."

GLAD filed suit against DOMA on March 3 this year, saying that Section 3 of DOMA violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by singling out only same-sex couples and depriving them of federal protections in the areas of tax law, Social Security, pensions, and issuance of passports. Arguments in the case are expected later this month.

Smelt v United States was dismissed by a federal judge in California last month on technical grounds, and will be refiled. Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer - legally married in California before passage of Prop 8 - argued that DOMA illegally restricted their rights to interstate travel.

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