The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced by a party-line vote Thursday legislation that would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
All the the committee’s Democrats approved the Respect for Marriage Act which would repeal DOMA and allow legally married couples to access federal benefits such as Social Security. Republicans countered that the repeal would undermine “traditional marriage.”
The bill was offered by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, and every Republican on the committee spoke out against it.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said, “The Fourteenth Amendment would probably never have been ratified if the public understood it to provide for same-sex marriage.
“This goes against the morality of many millions of Americans. I’ve always supported the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. It’s not about discriminating against anyone.”
It’s about “stable families, good environments for raising children and religious beliefs,” Grassley said.
“The Iowa Supreme Court made up a right to same-sex marriage. The people rose up and voted out all of the judges who were up for retention. In Iowa, the judges ignored the constitution,” Grassley added.
Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, a Democrat, said, “I support this bill because it takes the federal government out of the business of defining marriage.”
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said it would cost the government too much money if same-sex couples had access to Social Security like their heterosexual counterparts.
He also charged Democrats were out of touch by raising the issue.
“What’s changed since 1996? This is just another sign of how out of touch some of our friends across the aisle have been. I think it’s a transparent appeal to an interest group the other side needs in 2012.”
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said even though he voted for DOMA in 1996, he realized his vote was wrong.
“I believe I was wrong and I readily acknowledge that my views on this issue changed. It’s not because of votes,” he responded to Coburn. “It’s the right thing to do. I don’t care if it costs me votes.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said the repeal would “force states to recognize same-sex marriage.”
“Repealing Section 2 [of DOMA] means these sates may be forced to recognize valid marriage that their laws prohibit,” he said.
Cornyn said states have mostly chosen to affirm traditional marriage, adding he wished Democrats would support state’s rights in other instances. “I wish my liberal friends would pay attention to the prerogatives of the individual states in other situations.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said “repealing DOMA respects states right to make their own determination about marriage.”
On state-based bans on same-sex marriage, he said, “It’s not a question of if they are repealed, it’s a question of when.”
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, “I was struck at the hearing on the bill last summer by the people who testified. They were discriminated against and unfairly harmed. They were denied protections like the ability to take off work to care for a dying partner and denied survivor benefits when a partner died.”
She also said the issue wasn’t about religion.
“Whatever we vote on today and whatever happens today, the bill doesn’t require any church or mosque or synagogue to perform same-sex marriage. As the debate on this continues, we cannot lose sight of that.”
“I have tremendous respect for Sen. Grassley,” Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, said. “I just believe you misstated the history of marriage. Marriage has not existed as a union between one man and one woman for thousands of years in every culture. In many cultures, men have been able to marry many women and young girls. For centuries, women have been treated as cattle in marriage. Further, if the religious purpose for marriage is procreation, why would we sanction marriage between an 89-year-old widower and an 80-year-old widow? I just think we need to be accurate when we talk about the history of marriage, the history of man and woman, the history of our institutions.”
Franken spoke about couples in Minnesota who have been harmed by DOMA including a young couple who met in divinity school and married in Connecticut who have to lie on their federal tax forms and say they are single.
He talked about another Minnesota couple that married in Iowa, John and Jeff Westerfied. John was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“Jeff won’t have the federal right to take a medical leave. If John passes, Jeff won’t see a dime from Social Security,” said Franken. “DOMA hurts people who love each other. DOMA hurts people who want to adopt kids and raise them and take care of them. DOMA hurts families.
“We need to pass this bill. Straight people aren’t suddenly going to become gay, Straight people aren’t going to stop getting married. We are going to be just fine. Really.”