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Ed Fund Briefings: Marriage Equality

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Aug 05 2011 at 12:50 PM
ADA Today >>

By Mary von Euler

Advocates from the political, legal and religious worlds weighed in on the practical and moral dimensions of the fight for marriage equality at the Education Fund’s July 26 Congressional briefing.

Via video, state Assemblymember Daniel J. O’Donnell began the proceedings by explaining how he built support—step by step—for New York’s same-sex marriage law, which went into effect only two days before the briefing. Of equality’s opponents, he said, “They’re learning the sky isn’t falling.”

O’Donnell’s presentation led naturally into remarks by Maryland legislator Anne Kaiser, who shared lessons learned from her state's inability to enact a similar bill this year. Proponents “were victims of timing,” she explained: the State Senate’s welcome but surprising passage of an equality bill left the House too little time to line up support.

Jo Deutsch, federal director of Freedom to Marry, presented a three-step plan for  achieving marriage equality: enact more state equality laws; boost public support for the issue; and repeal the federal government’s so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). She reported that in the 15 years since enactment of DOMA , public opinion has swung from 27% favoring marriage equality in 1997 to 53% today. Among the 18-34 age group, the favorable figure is 70%.

Deutch asked the audience full of House staffers to urge their bosses to sign on as co-sponsors of Rep. Jerry Nadler’s Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA. (Ed Fund Executive Director Cheryl Kagan passed along Nadler’s regrets at not being able to attend the briefing.)  Deutch reported the bill already had 128 co-sponsors; its Senate counterpart, introduced by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), has 28. 

Georgetown Law School associate dean Nan Hunter described the increasingly complex legal landscape created by more and more states enacting marriage equality while the federal government is still bound by DOMA.  On issues from taxes to divorce, this state-federal divide will increasingly entangle same-sex couples.  Meanwhile, the federal government’s discriminatory stance on marriage denies same-sex couples over a thousand rights and benefits, including Social Security survivor payments and long-term care.

The Rev. Dennis Wiley, pastor of the “radically inclusive” Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ congregation in Washington, offered his personal journey and that of his flock towards an acceptance of marriage equality.  When the Rev. Wiley began performing same-sex marriages—two years before the District of Columbia recognized them—he lost some congregants who disapproved, but gained as many new ones who embraced the progress.

Mary von Euler is Secretary of ADA.