Fifteen years ago, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The law remains on the books today, and it is a stark reminder of why so many Americans are so disgusted with the politics of Washington.
People in my state don't see eye to eye on everything, but most Coloradans are worried about the same basic issues. They want an economy that's innovating, that's growing jobs here in the United States, instead of shipping them overseas. They want an energy policy that breaks our reliance on foreign oil, especially from the Persian Gulf. They want us to educate our children for the 21st century, not the 19th century. They want us to rationally deal with a deficit that's threatening to constrain the choices of our kids.
In the past two decades, Congress has done too little on all these fronts. Yet Washington has been all too effective at engaging in cynical politics over social issues -- and exhibit A is DOMA.
DOMA has two major provisions. First, it defines marriage explicitly, at the federal level, as a union between one man and one woman. Second, it stipulates that a state may choose not to legally recognize same-sex marriages authorized by another state.
Both of these provisions are bad policy, and they may also be unconstitutional. The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution directs states to recognize the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state." On that basis alone, DOMA runs counter to the legal architecture our Founding Fathers established. DOMA has also been repeatedly challenged as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The reason is simple: by definition, DOMA provides weaker legal protection to one class of American citizens, which is why the Obama administration announced it can no longer legitimately defend the law's constitutionality.
Beyond the legal wrangling, there are fundamental problems with DOMA. By picking and choosing which marriages to recognize, DOMA inserted the federal government deep into the weeds of marriage policy, an area that has always been and should remain a state issue. Laws like DOMA, which exist to propagate inequality, have the potential to block same-sex couples from receiving a range of benefits that my wife Susan and I take for granted -- basic fundamentals like hospital visitation rights, family health plans, spousal social security benefits, family and medical leave, the right to file joint federal income taxes, and more. And the legislation enshrines a discriminatory definition of marriage into federal law -- a continuing slap in the face to millions of Americans who want nothing more than to pursue adult, consensual and healthy relationships.
DOMA undermines the premise of equal opportunity that is fundamental to our democratic system. It's bad policy, and it's wrong. We must repeal it, and we should do it today.
That's why I've cosponsored the Respect for Marriage Act, groundbreaking legislation that would repeal DOMA and allow married same-sex couples to receive the same federal marriage benefits as everyone else. This bill preserves the role of states in the recognition of marriage, but would allow legally married same-sex couples to continue receiving federal benefits regardless of their state of residence.
The fact is that history is on our side. A growing chorus on the left and the right have come out against DOMA, including conservative former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, the flawed law's original author. Polls indicate that the majority of Americans are for repeal -- and young people, the future of the country, who think the culture wars are a relic from another era, support repeal overwhelmingly. The recent passage of the historic marriage law in New York further demonstrates the building momentum for equality.
Congress needs the courage and the will to act. Once DOMA is off the books, we need to leave divisive rhetoric behind, and start working together across party lines in support of solutions that help American families.