The summer of 2011 has seen historic moments in the path towards full marriage equality in America. On June 24, 2011, New York became the most populous state in the nation to pass legislation allowing the marriage between same-sex couples. The federal level also saw action and began to recognize the importance of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by introducing of the Respect of Marriage Act, with the first Senate Hearing on the repeal occurring on July 20, 2011. The Education Fund recognized the importance in continuing this momentum at our July 26, 2011 Congressional Briefing on Marriage Equality, one of our monthly series of Congressional briefings.
Our speakers not only discussed the burdens DOMA imposes on legally married same sex couples, but also the challenges and successes behind passing historical legislation in state legislators. Assemblymember Daniel J. O’Donnell from New York’s 69th District provided a hopeful message to our panel and audience in a short video presentation. Assemblymember O’Donnell discussed his successful campaign to pass the marriage equality legislation in his home state and the challenges he faced in securing its passage. Starting his mission in 2007, Assemblymember O’Donnell’s determination and dedication never wavered and came to fruition in the summer of 2011 when Governor Cuomo signed the legislation to allow same-sex couples the right to marry in New York.
Assemblymember O’Donnell’s presentation set the tone of hope and perseverance for the panelists and audience members, which included progressive activists and Congressional Staffers who joined together in Rayburn House Office Building.
Sharing her own experiences in the difficulties of passing such historic legislation, Delegate Anne R. Kaiser of Maryland’s 14th District discussed the challenges facing Maryland’s path towards equality. Delegate Kaiser, a strong proponent of marriage equality, spoke of Maryland’s recent attempts at passing their own legislation. While the bill passed in the Senate, the House was left with little time and opportunity to organize votes and secure coalitions. Taking the lessons learned from the missed opportunity, Delegate Kaiser spoke of her optimism in passing a bill in the next year, due in part to Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley’s now open support of the issue.
Jo Deutsch, the Federal Director of Freedom to Marry, works with her organization to end discrimination in marriage in US. Ms. Deutsch outlined Freedom to Marry’s “Roadmap for victory,” a three step process needed to end the discrimination of same-sex couples. These steps include securing more states, like in Maine and Oregon, to pass marriage equality bills, increasing the number of supporters of same-sex marriage, and repealing DOMA. Ms. Deutsch noted that none of the successes in the states will matter unless DOMA is overturned.
Dean Nan D. Hunter, Associate Dean and Professor at Georgetown Law, focused on the legal impact of Section 3 of DOMA. This portion of DOMA bars the Federal Government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed legally by states. Approximately 138 laws at the Federal level are affected by DOMA. Dean Hunter highlighted some examples such as the Family Medical Leave Act, where same-sex couples cannot take employment leave for a sick partner, and the Social Security Survivor and Spousal Benefits, which are not recognized for same-sex couples. Dean Hunter ended with a hopeful message that DOMA has momentum in the circuit courts and may be repealed through the courts as early as next year.
Dr. Dennis W. Wiley, Pastor at Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ and advocate for marriage equality, closed the briefing reminding all the importance of recognizing acceptance and that same-sex marriage may, in fact, strengthen the family. Dr. Wiley firmly believes that “all humans are created equal in the image of God… [and that] same sex persons are entitled to the same rights and protections under the law.” Using powerful imagery and prose, Dr. Wiley delivered a special message for all people to join the fight for equal rights “so that we can all grow and move forward together” and end marriage discrimination.
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As always, the ADA Ed Fund is grateful to Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey and her staff for their assistance in reserving space and helping to coordinate these monthly briefings. For more information on upcoming events, please visit our ADA Education Fund Facebook page.