Congressional Briefing on Marriage Equality

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.




ADA Edu­ca­tion Fund Con­gres­sional Brief­ings: Mar­riage Equal­ity: New York and Beyond from ADA & ADA Ed Fund on Vimeo

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ADA Education Fund

The ADA Edu­ca­tion Fund is an inde­pen­dent, char­i­ta­ble entity that focuses on increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness through edu­ca­tion and com­mu­nity orga­niz­ing that builds capac­ity for change. The Ed Fund pro­duces peri­odic pol­icy briefs, hosts pro­gres­sive speak­ers on a range of issues, spon­sors advo­cacy and research fel­low­ships, and works to expand civic par­tic­i­pa­tion through com­mu­nity orga­niz­ing around eco­nomic and social jus­tice issues.