Senator Patrick Leahey gaveled the Senate Judiciary Committee to order today to hear from those in support and opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
It was the spectacle everyone anticipated and more.
DOMA was passed in 1996 by 84 percent of those serving in Congress at the time and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton. The federal law defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman and limits spousal benefits, such as Social Security and health insurance to the legal spouse.
In light of recent successes such as New York passing legislation allowing same-sex marriage and court victories in California, activists are aggressively trying to undermine marriage at every possible level.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation titled the “Respect for Marriage Act” in an attempt to appeal DOMA once and for all.
Feinstein defended her bill in today’s hearing saying, “DOMA was wrong in 1996 and it is wrong today.”
However, overturning DOMA remains an almost impossible feat. While President Obama has pledged his support for the bill, standing in the way is a Republican majority in the House of Representatives that will most likely never allow the issue to come to a floor vote – at least not in the foreseeable future.
Austin Nimocks is senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund and was asked to testify at today’s hearing.
“We were able to clearly articulate that marriage is a building block of society and that marriage between one man and one woman has been a cornerstone of society since the beginning of time,” said Nimocks. “Obviously, there were some several people in the room today that have a view of marriage that is less than traditional.”
One such individual was Andrew Sorbo, a former history teacher whose homosexual partner of thirty years died in 2009, leaving him with no benefits.
“I’m baffled by how some can’t see the historical perspective on this,” said Sorbo. “Allowing the minority to be victims of majority.”
Tom Minnery, a senior vice president of CitizenLink, a division of Focus On The Family, testified before the committee and came under fire from Sen. Al Frank Franken (R-Minn.) as he rudely chided Minnery about a Department of Health and Human Services study from December of 2010.
“Children living with their own married, biological, and/or adoptive mothers and fathers were generally healthier and happier; had better access to health care; less likely to suffer mild or sever emotional problems; did better in school; were protected from physical, emotional, sexual abuse; and almost never live in poverty compared with children in any other family form,” Minnery wrote in his written testimony.
Franken asked that the report be entered into the record and challenged Minnery by asking if the department’s use of the report defined “nuclear families” as being two people of the opposite sex or could it have meant a same-sex couple?
“I would think that the study, when it cites nuclear families, would mean a family headed by a husband and wife,” answered Minnery.
Although the term “nuclear family” was not specifically defined in the report, Franken called Minnery’s character into question during his testimony.
“And I frankly don’t really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies these ways,” Franken said.
One observer who asked to remain anonymous was in the hearing room and was appalled at Senator Franken’s aggressive tone.
“I can understand disagreeing with someone who has an opposite view, but Senator Franken did not demonstrate respect for the body he serves in. It was as if he was a comedian and was heckling someone in a nightclub. His actions were totally inappropriate for a U.S. Senator.”
Nevertheless, Minnery stands by his interpretation of the report.
“It is a proven fact that children raised in a household where there is a mother and a father, a traditional or ‘nuclear’ family if you like that term, perform significantly better than children who are not raised in such an environment,” said Minnery. “Thirty-one states have committed to traditional marriage and I hope the members of the committee will look far and wide at the American people definition of marriage.”
Nimocks and another man who was in support of repealing DOMA were asked by one Senator if they believed Americans attitudes about marriage have changed over the years?
“Americans understand marriage,” said Nimocks. “Since 1998 over 32 jurisdictions have voted on marriage it’s passed by an average of 63 percent. They don’t need a legislature to define it for them.”
Correction: Monday, July 25, 2011:
An article on July 20, 2011, about the Respect of Marriage Act incorrectly quoted Austin Nimocks as saying, "Since 1968 over 32 jurisdictions have voted on marriage it's passed by an average of 63 percent. They don't need a legislature to define it for them." Americans have been voting for marriage since 1998.