The Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, is on trial in Congress this week five months after the Justice Department announced it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the act in court. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday morning to discuss the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal its 1996 predecessor. President Obama, who the White House says has “long called for a legislative repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” supports the repeal.
The Respect for Marriage Act states that the federal law must recognize same-sex marriages conducted where such unions are legal. [Read the U.S. News Debate: Is the Defense of Marriage Act Constitutional?]
Repeal supporters at Wednesday’s hearing told how the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, has prevented gay couples from having the kind of financial security heterosexual married couples have, including getting on a partner’s employer-provided medical insurance or inheriting a partner’s Social Security benefits.
Critics of repeal cite the overwhelming support for DOMA in 1996—the act passed by 85-14 in the Senate and 342-67 in the House. Some also bristle at the dismissal by gay activists of “deeply held religious beliefs” as “attitudes and stereotypes.” [See a roundup of political cartoons on gay marriage.]
One witness at the hearing, Thomas Minnery of conservative Focus on the Family, cited a study that he said suggests children are better off if they are raised in a household headed by a man and a woman, based on several factors (though Sen. Al Franken disputed Minnery's interpretation of the study). The Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley agrees with this line of thinking, saying marriage between a man and a woman has been the foundation of society for 6000 years around the world. Marriage “creates incentives for husbands and wives to support each other and their children,” he said in remarks prepared for the hearing. “It exists more to benefit children than adults.”
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