At Wednesday's landmark Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider new legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) said the 15-year-old law was discriminatory and urged his colleagues to support its repeal.
"Equality for all is supposed to mean, in my view, equality for all," Senator Coons said at the hearing. "I don't see what business it is of our federal government to reach into Americans' hearts and judge them for whom they love."
The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced earlier this year to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which gave states the ability waive the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution and deny legal recognition same-sex marriages performed out of state. The Defense of Marriage Act also defined "marriage" for federal purposes to exclude same-sex marriage.
For the first time on Tuesday, President Obama offered his support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and for the first time in our nation's history, the majority of Americans -- 53 percent -- now support marriage equality.
"I'm tired of it being the law of this land that it's ok for the government to discriminate against Americans solely because of their gender identity or sexual orientation," Senator Coons said. "I'm tired of seeing kids grow up in a country where their government tells them discrimination is ok, and I think it is no wonder that we continue to see kids being bullied in school and see so many LGBT children take their own lives because they've given up hope, because, in my view, because this law simply encourages discrimination."
Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) turned over the gavel to Senator Coons to chair the third panel of Wednesday's hearing, leading the questioning of four key witnesses: Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign; Evan Wolfson, Founder and Executive Director of Freedom to Marry; David Austin R. Nimocks, Senior Legal Counsel of Alliance Defense Fund; and Edward Whelan, President of Ethics and Public Policy Center.
As chair, Senator Coons swore-in the four witnesses, apportioned time for questioning among the other senators, and maintained order in the hearing room. He also led questioning along Constitutional and principled lines to examine why the Defense of Marriage Act is wrong for America.
Senator Coons is an original cosponsor of the bill at the heart of Wednesday's hearing -- S.598, the Respect for Marriage Act -- and is an ardent supporter of equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. In addition to the Respect for Marriage Act, in the current Congress, Senator Coons has cosponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, the Uniting American Families Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act. During the lame duck session of the previous Congress, Senator Coons cosponsored and worked hard to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which prevents openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the U.S. armed forces.