Wednesday, August 19, 2009

White House Has Yet to Work Towards Repealing DOMA

The Department of Justice's (DOJ) Monday filing on the Smelt case challenging the so-called Defense of Marriage Act had a strikingly different tone from the prior brief, this time clearly stating that DOMA is discriminatory and should be repealed. I felt this was a welcome respite from the language in the prior brief, despite the DOJ moving forward on defending the law.

President Obama also issued an accompanying statement echoing the same sentiments, though this some see this as contrary to his well-known stance that he does not support marriage equality. But again, encouraging, because through the DOJ's brief, Obama officially stated for the first time in court he opposed DOMA.

However, today, the Washington Post reports that the White House has made no moves to repeal the law. "The Obama administration, managing a busy and complicated legislative agenda, has not begun working with Congress to repeal the act, congressional and White House sources said. Dissatisfaction in the gay and lesbian community peaked in June, when some donors canceled plans to attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser."

Time today has a piece asking, "Why Does Obama Keep Flip-Flopping on Gay Marriage?"
. . . Obama has also said he opposes . . . a 1996 bill (signed by President Clinton) that anti-gay forces called the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Obama has said several times that he would like that law overturned.

And yet — sorry, the contradictions keep coming — once Obama was elected, and once a gay couple in California had sued to overturn DOMA, his Administration not only defended the law, but defended it in a legal argument so reactionary that it would embarrass Dick Cheney . . .

That argument — that two consenting adult men marrying isn't unlike a man marrying his niece . . .

And so this week we get a new legal brief from the Obama Administration in the California case, this one denuded of the execrable incest defense. This time . . . Obama flip-flops again — now back to his campaign position. (It must be dizzying to work in the White House these days.) Now the Administration says it opposes DOMA and wants it overturned — but that tradition dictates that it defend the law. And that is why, the White House said in a statement, "the Department of Justice has filed a response to a legal challenge to [DOMA], as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged."

Legalistically speaking, the tradition argument is true, but it's yet another Obama dodge. The Administration could easily decline to defend the anti-gay law on discrimination grounds, just as the Administration of George H.W. Bush declined to defend federal laws setting a preference for awarding broadcast licenses to minority-owned businesses in 1990 . . .

Nothing except politics.
Though for many of us this piece reports old news, it is a reminder that the fickle Obama administration has yet to form a real strategy, or a simple plan for that matter, on how to act on DOMA. It is also a reminder that the work is in our hands.

But it's not all bad news. Obama has repeatedly charged Congress with the task of tackling DOMA, and they have responded. It's up to us to keep pressure on our representatives to get it done.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York is forging a repeal bill that will be introduced to the House this fall. Senators Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold, and Chuck Schumer, have also been reported to be working on a Senate version of a repeal. Though both bills may only be partial repeals, allowing states to still decide for themselves whether or not to perform same-sex marriages, they will be written to allow the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages.

ACTION: Contact each of the representatives above by clicking on each of their names and let them know that you support a DOMA repeal!

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