Advocates Say DOMA Fight Is Not Over Yet
Connecticut’s U.S. senators said Monday that the Supreme Court’s reversal of a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act was an important step in an ongoing push to see same-sex couples treated fairly under federal law.
At a Monday press conference at Hartford City Hall, U.S. Sens Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy and state Comptroller Kevin Lembo celebrated the High Court’s decision with same-sex marriage advocates, which ruled part of DOMA unconstitutional.
Blumenthal called the law, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples in states where it is legal, “one of the most perditious, insidious, and unconstitutional laws in the history of the United States.”
When Wednesday’s decision came down, Blumenthal said he was reminded of an important moment in the country’s civil rights history.
“My first thought was ‘this is how it felt when Brown v. Board of Education was decided.’ History has changed. Under our feet the political landscape is changing,” he said.
However, Blumenthal said more progress needs to be made, including repealing the portion of the law left intact and changing federal law so couples are recognized based on the state they were married in, rather than the state where they live.
He said if a couple is married in Connecticut but living in Kansas, the federal government should recognize their marriage, even though it is not legal in Kansas. According to the state Public Health Department, more than 7,000 same-sex couples had married in Connecticut as of March and since it became legal in 2008. About 4,000 reside outside Connecticut.
“The place where they’re married should determine the validity of their marriage, not the place where they live. That’s the essential principle that federal law needs to be changed to recognize,” he said. “That may sound technical or arcane but it matters and it matters a lot.”
Some changes Blumenthal outlined can be accomplished through an executive order by the president. For instance, the application of the Family Medical Leave Act and Internal Revenue Service regulations can be modified through executive order.
Others would require congressional action, including a full repeal of the law and a federal rule barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Although Blumenthal and Murphy acknowledged there currently is not enough support in the House of Representatives to repeal DOMA in full, the senators and advocates remarked on how quickly public opinion seemed to be shifting towards support of gay rights.
Anne Stanback, founder and former executive director of Love Makes a Family, said she had no doubt that every state would soon permit same-sex marriages.
“The tide of public opinion is shifting that quickly,” she said.
Murphy recalled being criticized as a state lawmaker for his support of Connecticut’s civil unions statute, an issue he said “seems positively outdated” less than a decade later.
“This is the civil rights issue of our lifetime and though we celebrate the victory last week, we know it is just part of what is an inexorable march to full equality for people regardless of their sexual orientation,” Murphy said.
Lembo, the first openly gay politician to hold statewide office in Connecticut, said he felt confident that “equality will be achieved” as the law progresses.
“I have confidence in our system and even though it’s hard sometimes, I have confidence in the better angels of the electorate, who today may not see things the way we do in other parts of this country, but within our lifetime they will. It’s just a matter of time,” he said.
Lembo, who as state comptroller oversees the pay, health care, and pension benefits of state employees, said there are some steps his office is taking to immediately comply with last week’s decision.
He said his office is re-coding the accounts of same-sex families to ensure that they get the same tax benefits as straight couples. He said his office also will need to issue corrected W-2 forms to some state employees because of changes to how their benefits are accounted.
“As an employer, we’ve got a ton of work to do,” he said. “. . . but it’s good because it’s the right thing to do. There was also a real economic — as well as emotional — injustice.”