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DOMA a roadblock to marriage equality

By Mac McIntosh

The approval of Referendum 74 is only one stride on the path that married lesbians and gays need to travel to enjoy full equality.

Married lesbians and gays will come under the same Washington State laws as opposite-sex married couples. Unfortunately, however, same-sex married couples aren’t protected by federal laws and regulations, because of a 1996 federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA defines marriage as between one man and one woman. This definition denies gays and lesbians the rights and privileges that opposite-sex married couples receive.

These rights and privileges include Social Security survivor benefits, the right to be buried with a spouse in a military cemetery, and the right to inherit  one’s deceased spouse’s money tax free – among many rights and privileges not granted to same-sex married couples. In all, more than a thousand federal rights and privileges are denied to married lesbians and gays.

Eight lower courts have declared DOMA unconstitutional. President Obama has instructed the Department of Justice lawyers to not defend DOMA. Speaker of the House John Boehner disagreed with the President and instructed the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (a House sub-committee) to defend DOMA. Boehner has spent $1,447,996.73 of Congress’s money hiring outside lawyers.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized Republican leaders for wasting taxpayer’s money defending a law that every lower court has declared unconstitutional.

“The American people should no longer have to foot the bill for Speaker Boehner’s campaign to appease the most conservative forces within the Republican Party,” Pelosi said.  Fortunately the committee has run out of money.

To understand what damage DOMA can do, consider the case of Edith Windsor. She and her partner had been together 40 years. Two of those years they were married, which was recognized in New York State. When Edith Windsor’s partner died, Ms. Windsor was stuck with a $363,000 tax from her inheritance.  If their marriage had been recognized by the federal government, she would not have to pay any taxes because it would be covered under U. S, estate tax laws.

The cases declared unconstitutional by the lower courts will be heard by the U. S. Supreme Court in January or February. Its decision will probably not be announced until June.

In the meantime Congress is working on a bill that would repeal DOMA, called the Respect for Marriage Act.  It has 154 co-sponsors in the House and 32 in the Senate. With 54% of the public supporting marriage equality, it is possible that this unfair law can be repealed through legislation. This may be faster than waiting for the Supreme Court decision.

With the elimination of DOMA, married lesbians and gays will finally enjoy the full rights and privileges of other married citizens of the U. S.

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