Respect for Marriage Act Gets Presidential Endorsement on Eve of Historic Senate Hearing (John Lewis to Testify!)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced today that the President is supporting the Respect for Marriage Act - a bill introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) that will both repeal DOMA and treat all couples married in any state equally under federal law.



In the way of just what the Respect for Marriage Act does above and beyond repealing DOMA, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont - the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee which will host a historic hearing on the bill tomorrow, had this to say in an email to supporters:
The Obama Administration has played a huge role in the effort to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), refusing to defend this discriminatory law in federal court earlier this year.

But moments ago, the President went a step further by endorsing the Respect for Marriage Act I've put forth to repeal DOMA and restore the rights of all lawfully married couples to receive the full benefits of marriage under federal law.
This is exactly consistent with the President's position in when he and Attorney General Holder not simply refused to defend DOMA but asked a federal court to overturn it. At the time, I wrote about the DOJ's court brief that delivered a stirring documentation of the history anti-gay discrimination and a stunning rebuke of bigotry. The President is not now, and has never been, afraid to be the wind at the sail of progress and equal justice under law.

In effect, the Respect for Marriage Act (full bill text) extends the right of all committed same-sex couples to enjoy the federal rights and responsibilities of their opposite-sex counterparts as long as there is at least one state that recognizes same sex marriages. While the bill will not force any state to recognize marriages from another state or grant federal benefits to same sex couples who are not legally married in their state, it does require the federal government to treat all married couples equally - in terms of benefits, rights, and responsibilities. HRC has a great summary:
The Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) repeals DOMA and restores the rights of all lawfully married couples—including same-sex couples—to receive the benefits of marriage under federal law. The bill also provides same-sex couples with certainty that federal benefits and protections would flow from a valid marriage celebrated in a state where such marriages are legal, even if a couple moves or travels to another state.

By repealing Section 2, the Respect for Marriage Act returns to traditional principles of comity and Full Faith and Credit. Under the RMA, same-sex couples and their families would be eligible for important federal benefits and protections such as family and medical leave or Social Security spousal and survivors’ benefits, but the federal government could not grant state-level rights. The bill does not require states that have not yet enacted legal protections for same-sex couples to recognize a marriage. Nor does it obligate any person, state, locality, or religious organization to celebrate or license a marriage between two persons of the same sex. This legislation only requires the federal government to equally apply its policy of looking to the states in determining what legal relationships are eligible for federal benefits.
This is important - read the bold parts again. A couple would retain the federal benefits as long they have been married in a state where it is legal, even if they move to a state where their marriage is not recognized. If your state does not allow same-sex marriage, one can still go to Vermont, or Massachusetts or Iowa to get married, and have the federal benefits conferred. If you live in a state like California, where same sex domestic partners have all the benefits of marriage but the name, you can have a marriage license from Vermont, a domestic partnership registration in California, and essentially enjoy all the benefits of marriage - both state and federal.

This is not the end of the road, of course. There is no stopping until marriage is recognized as a fundamental civil and institutional right in all of the United States. But this is significant progress. We know even this bill is far from becoming law, given the Republican House. But the hearings that Sen. Leahy will be holding tomorrow will be historic and a great step forward in the journey to full equality. The witnesses in front of the committee will tell Americans that they, too, are Americans. I just looked at the witness list and I couldn't tell you how proud I am to see this man by our side:
Panel I
The Honorable John Lewis
United States Congressman
State of Georgia
This sends chills down my spine. If there is one person in Congress today within whom lives the whole history of the Civil Rights movement, it is John Lewis. I cannot tell you how humbled I am that he is choosing to stand with us in this fight. He is a true American hero.

So, I have a few action items for you - and I really need you to do this.

  1. Thank You's: First, please thank the President for having our back at this critical moment, and please please thank Congressman John Lewis for his compassion and commitment. You can't thank Congressman Lewis by email unless you live in his district though, so I am asking you to pick up the phone and call his office at (202) 225-3801.
     
  2. Sign Sen. Leahy's Petition: Sen. Leahy has a petition that will send the message to your Senators and member of Congress that you support the Respect for Marriage Act.
     
  3. Call your Senator and member of Congress: You know the drill. Senators especially since the hearing is tomorrow. Senate.gov. House.gov.
     
  4. Call members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: - as many of them as you can, and I wouldn't back off calling someone just because they are Republicans - they need to hear from us too. Here is a list and numbers.

    Democrats:

    Patrick Leahy (202) 224-4242 [Thank him for holding the hearing, please.]
    Herb Kohl (202) 224-5653
    Diane Feinstein (202) 224-3841 [Thank her for sponsoring the bill!]
    Chuck Schumer 202-224-6542
    Dick Durbin (202) 224-2152
    Sheldon Whitehouse 202-224-2921
    Amy Klobuchar 202-224-3244
    Al Franken (202) 224-5641
    Chris Coons (202) 224-5042
    Richard Blumenthal (202) 224-2823

    Republicans:

    Chuck Grassley (202) 224 - 3744
    Orrin Hatch (202) 224-5251
    Jon Kyl (202) 224-4521
    Jeff Sessions (202) 224-4124
    Lindsay Graham (202) 224-5972
    John Cornyn 202-224-2934
    Mike Lee 202-224-5444
    Tom Coburn 202-224-5754

    Congressional Switchboard: (202)224-3121 or 800-828-0498.
Thank you for everything you do. To quote our own Bobfr, Yes.We.Can. ... DO.More.Together!