Most of the news coming out of Washington, DC this week has been all about debt ceilings, sweltering triple-digit temperatures and “heat domes.” However, there’s another important reason to take note of the week that was, as it was one of the most important weeks for LGBT rights in our nation’s capital in recent memory.
On the eve of a landmark hearing in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the discriminatory and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the White House on Tuesday afternoon formally endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA in its entirety. Additionally, it would provide all married couples certainty that regardless of where they travel or move in the country, they will not be treated as strangers under federal law.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee made history by holding the first hearing on how DOMA negatively impacts married gay and lesbian couples and their families. The hearing was particularly historic because it was the first since DOMA came into being in 1996 to examine its impact on tens of thousands of Americans with a critical eye. Of particular note (and delight for supporters of LGBT equality), Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) took a witness from the anti-gay Focus on the Family to task for factual inaccuracies in his hearing testimony that could be read to disparage gay and lesbian-led families. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also got the Focus on the Family witness to admit that the children of married gay and lesbian couples are financially harmed as a direct result of DOMA. It was crystal clear at the hearing that there’s absolutely no rational argument one can credibly muster to defend the senseless discrimination that DOMA represents.
Earlier this afternoon, President Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certified that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not affect unit cohesion or readiness. Lesbian, gay and bisexual troops can begin serving openly 60 days from today’s certification. In addition, those who wish to enlist and join the armed forces will no longer need to lie about their sexual orientation in order to do so. Today’s action represents the final formal step necessary to relegate DADT to its rightful place as an ugly relic of history.
It isn’t every week that we can report such momentous progress, so we wanted to share the good news with you all. We can take a few days to celebrate, particularly as gay and lesbian couples in New York gain the freedom to marry on Sunday, but then it is back to work next week on working to repeal DOMA. All of the tens of thousands of legally-married gay and lesbian couples across the U.S., and the thousands more who will start to join them this weekend in New York, deserve to have those marriages respected by the federal government.