Legislation authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was the subject of a hearing on Capitol Hill today.
The Senate Judiciary Committee examined Feinstein's Respect for Marriage Act, a bill to strike DOMA from federal law and provide legally married, same-sex couples the same federal benefits, rights and privileges as all married Americans.
Senator Feinstein's opening remarks:
"Today is an historic day, the first congressional hearing ever on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
DOMA was wrong in 1996 and it is wrong today.
Twenty-seven of my colleagues and I introduced The Respect for Marriage Act. Our bill is simple: it strikes DOMA from federal law.
Let me make a few quick points. Family law has traditionally been the preserve of state law. It therefore varies from state to state.
* Marriage is the preserve of state law.
* Divorce is the preserve of state law.
* Adoption is the preserve of state law.
* Inheritance rights are the preserve of state law.
The single exception is DOMA.
Chief Justice Rehnquist once wrote that family law "has been left to the States from time immemorial, and not without good reason."
He was right.
My second point is that same-sex couples live their lives like all married couples.
They share financial expenses, they raise children together, they care for each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, until death they do part.
But DOMA denies these couples the rights and benefits to:
* File joint federal income taxes and claim certain deductions;
* Receive spousal benefits under Social Security;
* Take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act;
* Obtain the protections of the estate tax when a spouse passes and wants to leave his or her possessions to another.
I'd like to thank Ron Wallen, from Indio, California, as well as the other witnesses, for coming before the Committee today. I also want to thank the 16 Californians who submitted statements for the record.
There are between 50,000 and 80,000 married same-sex couples in this country, and 18,000 in my state of California.
Many Californians impacted by DOMA could not come here today to testify. Let me give you an example:
Jill Johnson-Young, from Riverside, California, could not fulfill one of her wife Linda's last wishes, that they be buried together at a veterans' cemetery. This is not right.
Dr. Kevin Mack was tragically killed this past Thursday on his way to San Francisco General Hospital. He leaves behind his husband and two children, who now, because of DOMA, essentially lose rights that would have been given to a straight family.
For some reason, the Congress of the United States, when it passed DOMA in 1996, sought to deny rights and benefits provided by the federal government to legally married same-sex couples.
This must change.
And that is what today is about. However long it takes, we will achieve it."