ACLU Submits Statement for Landmark Hearing on the Discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act

July 20, 2011 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today held the first congressional hearing on the harms of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) since the law’s passage in 1996. As a result of the discrimination perpetrated by DOMA, same-sex couples who are legally married are nevertheless denied all of the federal benefits and protections available to all other married couples. These couples and their families are currently denied the more than 1,100 federal protections and responsibilities that apply to married opposite-sex couples, including Social Security survivor benefits and the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“DOMA is discrimination disguised as government policy, and the harm it has caused thousands of American families is undeniable,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. “By continuing to single out lawfully married same-sex couples for discriminatory treatment, this law runs counter to our country’s fundamental ideals of fairness. With the support of both the president and Department of Justice, as well DOMA’s original congressional author, Congress can and should make repealing DOMA a priority.”

The Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598 and H.R. 1116), legislation pending in both the Senate and the House, would repeal DOMA in its entirety, as well as provide all married couples certainty that regardless of where they travel or move in the country, they would not be treated as strangers under federal law. The Respect for Marriage Act would return the federal government to its historic role in deferring to states in determining who is married.

“Congress should act to protect the American families who have suffered under DOMA. They can do so by passing the Respect for Marriage Act,” said Ian Thompson, ACLU legislative representative. “The Respect for Marriage Act will not only repeal DOMA, but also provide critical federal protections for the tens of thousands of same-sex couples throughout the country who are already legally married. Excluding these couples from having the same protections as their married opposite-sex neighbors is unjust, unnecessary and unethical.”

The ACLU, the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in November 2010 on behalf of Edith “Edie” Windsor, who shared her life with her late spouse, Thea Spyer, for 44 years. Windsor challenged the federal government’s refusal under DOMA to recognize her marriage and the imposition of a $363,000 tax on Spyer’s estate when she died. Windsor would not have had to pay the tax if she had been married to a man.

To read the ACLU’s testimony, go to:

To learn more about Edie’s case, go to:

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