News - August 1996

National Groups' Statements on DOMA Passing in House

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) compiled statements July 12 from some of the nation's leading lesbian and gay and civil rights groups on the U.S. House of Representatives vote approving the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Organizations representing lesbians and gay men nationwide reacted strongly to the lopsided vote (342 to 67 with 2 members voting "present") and characterized it as an election-year product of extreme conservatives.

The House passed a bill that would redefine marriage in Federal law as a "legal union between one man and one woman," and allow states to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states.

In its testimony, which was signed by Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU's National Washington Office, and Matthew Coles, Director of the ACLU's National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, the ACLU said that a second provision of the bill would attempt to carve a "gay exception" to the Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause by allowing states to ignore marriages performed in any other state. That clause guarantees that the rights conferred to citizens in one state will be honored by the other states.

The Full Faith and Credit Clause absolutely requires states to honor the judgements of other state courts -- including divorce, inheritance and commercial judgments -- which often take into account marital status. To that extent, the bill is an "unmistakable violation of the Constitution," Coles said.

The issue of same-sex marriage has been raised in response to a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in May 1993 that the denial of marriage licenses to three lesbian and gay couples appears to violate the state's Equal Rights Amendment. The Justices sent the case back to the trial to decide if the state can prove a "compelling state interest" in denying the marriage licenses.

The trial is now scheduled for September 10. Although legal observers say the state will have difficulty meeting its burden, a final decision from the Hawaii Supreme Court is not expected until at least 1997.

Various groups issued the following comments about the DOMA vote:

"The House today turned its back on a fundamental human right for political expediency. This goes beyond legislators saying they are not ready to accept same-sex marriages. This is an unnecessary and mean-spirited attempt by some in Congress to select out lesbians and gay men for discriminatory treatment. As long as our nation attaches a wealth of economic and legal benefits to civil marriages, denying those same benefits to lesbians and gay men is nothing short of outright discrimination," said Matt Coles, Director of the Lesbian & Gay Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

As part of the nation's oldest civil liberties organization, the ACLU's Lesbian & Gay Rights Project fights for equal rights in the courts, the legislatures, and the court of public opinion.

"Americans are overwhelmingly for fairness and today's vote in the House means that we must work harder to educate the public to the fact that lesbian and gay couples deserve the same freedoms guaranteed to ALL Americans. We will not be deterred by this gratuitous attack on us and believe that most Americans will not be fooled by this election year media circus of distraction," said William Waybourn, Managing Director, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

GLAAD is the nation's lesbian and gay news bureau and the only national lesbian and gay multimedia watchdog organization. GLAAD promotes fair, accurate, and inclusive representation as a means of challenging discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity.

"The House committed an ugly, cowardly and unconstitutional act by passing this bill, and history will remember it as such. It is nothing more than gratuitous election-year gay-bashing and the Human Rights Campaign intends to hold every member of Congress accountable for this vote," said Elizabeth Birch, Executive Director, Human Rights Campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, with members throughout the country.

"DOMA is really an attack on marriage, on the Constitution, and on lesbians and gay men. This attack bill sticks federal lawmakers for the first time in history into the marriage arena, grabbing state powers and defining what couples have 'good' marriages and what couples have 'bad' marriages. Under the proposed caste system, 'bad' marriages would initially be for gay couples who years from now might be able to marry in at least one state. What categories of couples will be next -- second marriages? Childless marriages? Welfare families with 'too many' children?" said Evan Wolfson, director of the Marriage Project, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund is the oldest and largest national legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS.

"In an act of sheer political pandering, Congress has disrespected and denied the reality of the lives of millions of lesbians and gay men. Our families and our relationships have endured despite similar acts of meanspririted homophobia. Our fight will continue despite election year scapegoating, until we finally realize the goal of legal equality and respect for our families," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director, The National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a lesbian, feminist, multicultural, legal resource center committed to creating a world where all lesbians can live fully without fear of discrimination.

"DOMA is bogus legislation. It neither strengthens American families nor marriages between men and women. Instead, it draws a circle around gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals and proclaims that our families do not deserve recognition. Unfortunately the majority of the House of Representatives was not willing to stand up for the principles for which this country stands: tolerance, compassion and fairness. We will not stand by silently and be used as scapegoats in this election year," said Melinda Paras, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).

NGLTF is the nation's oldest national gay and lesbian civil rights organization.

"Republicans catering to the radical right are trying to use same-sex marriage to drive a wedge between President Clinton and the lesbian and gay community. And sadly, Democrats and fair-minded Republicans have abandoned common sense politics for election-year hysteria and right wing blackmail," said Rosemary Dempsey, Vice President-Action, National Organization for Women (NOW).

The National Organization for Women is the largest feminist organization in the U.S., with 275,000 members.

"The passage in the House today of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act has sent a disturbing message to Americans: that all our family members are not considered equal. I fear that today's vote for DOMA is a vote for continued intolerance of our lesbian and gay children," said Nancy McDonald, Vice President of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian and bisexual persons, their families and friends.

The organizations listed above are members of the national Freedom to Marry Coalition, an unprecedented alliance of organizations supporting the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.