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Why yesterday’s Senate panel vote to repeal DOMA matters

DOMA Repeal

By Adam Bink

Ask someone what “gay marriage” or “marriage equality” means, and you’ll get pretty high name recognition. It’s been around long enough as an issue.

Ask someone what “Defense of Marriage Act” or “DOMA” is, and you get blank stares. I got them when I went home to Western New York after the New York State government legalized same-sex marriage, and people said isn’t it great, and I said yes it is, but now these couples get to feel the sting of DOMA. And people had no idea what I was talking about.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to repeal DOMA. As usual, Beltway folks — even friends and colleagues of mine — dismissed the move as symbolic. Who cares, they said, it won’t go anywhere!

It’s an argument that overvalues the short-term and shortchanges the long-term. In the short-term, we get this:

This is a screenshot of the search result for “Defense of Marriage Act” in Google News at 2:59 PM EST on 11/11/11. In fact, Google News says there are 441 related articles on that topic in the news today. The combined reach of these news pieces is more than any one TV ad or web video or most other tools in our toolbox because they reach people all over the country in places to which they turn and trust for news.

Yesterday’s vote even spawned opinion pieces like this one from a 17-year-old high school student writing about how DOMA affects teens, or this one from Alan Shayne, former president of Warner Bros., who tells his story of how DOMA affects him and the man he married in Massachusetts in 2008, or this one from Rev. Ed Bacon, rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena, explaining why passing the Respect for Marriage Act will lend his church a hand when it comes to marriage. People share these stories on social media and e-mail. And further it spreads.

To the point at the top of this piece, one of the most important parts is that the articles actually explain what the Defense of Marriage Act is. Like this piece from ABC News’ The Note:

“So we begin with a single step on a march to equality,” committee chairman  Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said at a news conference following the vote. “Marriage is a matter for the states to determine — whether it’s my state or any other state. And those Americans who are lawfully married should have the same protection under federal laws that my wife and I enjoy.”

While noting disappointment at not having a single Republican vote in the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., hailed the procedural step.

“DOMA is discriminatory,” Feinstein said. “DOMA prevents people legally married in a state to get the same rights and benefits — federal rights and benefits that a heterosexual couple would get. So it treats one class differently from another class.”

Most of the traditional media ones have a compulsory quote from Tony Perkins or some right-wing Senator, of course, but they also have a corresponding quote from Sen. Feinstein or Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs or another advocate on the issue, explaining why repealing DOMA is so important. And so the poll numbers on name recognition move a fair amount, and because we know we win when we tell stories of LGBT oppression, perhaps the support for repealing DOMA ticked up too, even if just a bit.

So it’s not symbolic. All this stuff matters. As I wrote in yesterday’s op-ed in The Advocate, we need to move our numbers up to figures like 77%, which is the percentage of Americans who supported repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in December 2010 and one big reason we got that done. We need to get more Senators off the fence and on our side. We need to do all this now, so when we do have a shot at moving the bill to the President’s desk, we can move quickly — and you can help by joining our campaign.

Success is not measured by what we can do now, but by progress we’ve made to achieve a goal. And every time we can educate the public and change some hearts and minds, it’s not symbolic at all. It’s real.

Cross-posted at DailyKos


  • 1. Ronnie  |  November 11, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    "Success is not measured by what we can do now, but by progress we’ve made to achieve a goal. And every time we can educate the public and change some hearts and minds, it’s not symbolic at all. It’s real."

    HEAR, HEAR!!!……Subscribing & sharing…….The Lamar County District Attorney's Office has resolved that the three men who attacked Burke Burnett in Texas will face hate crimes charges on top of the three counts of aggravated assault. Two of the attackers will also have, on top of that, enhancements as repeat offenders. They face up to life in prison & I hope they get the full sentence. ……… <3…Ronnie:

    Three Men Charged with Hate Crime Assault in Attack on Texas Gay Man:

  • 2. renecito1  |  November 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Im really sorry for Burke Burnett, glad justice is going to be served.
    Somehow a documentary of the guys way of thinking would be good as a lesson plan for our youth.
    Interviews and study their brain activity when they see a 69 photo… Arghh makes me so pissed.

  • 3. MarcosLB  |  November 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    In local Long Beach CA news, a Torrance man (a Republican stronghold nearby), was sentenced to five years for attacking a gay man:

  • 4. Gregory in SLC  |  November 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you for excellent piece today and in yesterday's Advocate Adam….and for excellent articles.. Alan Shayne's comments are profound:

    Think for a moment what would happen if everything created by homosexuals in the history of the world were removed by the delete button on that great computer in the sky. Do we want to live in such a world? Then for God's sake, get rid of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is already declared unconstitutional, and let us all be equal and free in "the land of the free."

    p.s. from ABC article ; )
    …the Clinton administration law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a union

  • 5. Ann S.  |  November 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    The time for justice is always NOW!

  • 6. Louis E.  |  November 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    …and justice requires that the requirement that marriage partners be of opposite sexes be recognized in all 50 states,and the argument that homosexual orientation offers any defense whatsoever against such policy be ruled inadmissible in any court!

  • 7. DaveP  |  November 11, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Go read the U.S. Constitution and learn something about the concept of equal rights. Then come back here and just try to find one legitimate Constitutionally acceptable reason for denying equal marriage rights based on sexual orientation. If you have learned anything, you won't be able to do it. Because there is no legitimate reason. Thanks for playing!

  • 8. MightyAcorn  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Even if that sentence could be grammatically parsed in any sensical way, I wouldn't bother to respond to it.

    The Troll Quality Index sure seems to have dropped around here; anyone know where we can obtain one with some small spark of intelligence? This one sucks, with its abominable English and its arguments like unset Jello. Call me when you stop being sad and boring, junior troll. We only play with the big dogs around here.

  • 9. shelostcontro1  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    do you realize how ridiculous you sound?

  • 10. Reformed  |  November 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    DOMA prevents people legally married in a state to get the same rights and benefits — federal rights and benefits that a heterosexual couple would get. So it treats one class differently from another class.

    Cutting this down to the issue (IMHO). . .

    DOMA prevents people legally married (from receiving) federal rights and benefits.

    DOMA is very confusing, many people think that DOMA makes every state recognize the marriage from other states, even from those states with marriage equality. I dont know. Does it?

    I dont know. Does it?

  • 11. Ann S.  |  November 11, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    DOMA currently provides that a state is NOT required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state (Section 2). It is Section 3 of DOMA that prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

    I am not convinced that repeal of Section 2 would automatically result in states being required to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. This partly based on my experience as a child when my parents' marriage was not recognized in every state prior to Loving v. Virginia.

  • 12. Steve  |  November 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Yeah. There is an exception in the Full Faith and Credit clause that says that states don't have to recognize laws that are against their public policies.

    I've also read somewhere that technically it only applies to acts and judgments. but that marriage is a status. That's why states generally have to recognize court judgments relating to adoption for example, but not necessarily a family relationship that's only established as the result of a marriage

  • 13. MichGuy  |  November 11, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    QUESTION: Cant we solve gay marriage by allowing courts to enter judgments that attest to the marriage status of a couple or even order them married??
    I've also seen pro-gay organizations argue that the Full Faith and Credit clause only speaks of "acts" and "judgments" and thus doesn't apply to marriages, because marriage is a status
    So why cant we solve the gay marriagerecognizition problem by ordering courts to solemnize marriages with a court judgement ?

  • 14. Louis E.  |  November 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    Since there is a compelling state interest in promoting opposite-sex relationships and none at all in there being any same-sex sexual relationships,a marriage law that meets the requirements of the General Welfare Clause has to require marriage partners to be of opposite sexes.Whether or not they are in fact heterosexual is of no relevance to any law or policy.

  • 15. DaveP  |  November 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Wrong. On all counts. There is indeed a compelling state interest to provide EQUAL RIGHTS and EQUAL LEGAL PROTECTION to all citizens. Therefore same sex couples must be granted equal rights to legal civil marriage, and to have all of the same rights, responsibilities and protections as other couples. Go read the ruling in the Prop 8 case and tell us exactly what part is incorrect. We'll wait.

  • 16. Bill S  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:13 am

    A "compelling government interest" (which is a legal term, not one you can just throw around) generally refers to national security and publicly safety interests. A policy which indicates a mere preference does not rise to the level of compelling under the law. Furthermore, the law must be narrowly tailored to the interest in order to be upheld under strict scrutiny. Even if we were to assume that "promoting opposite-sex relationships" were a matter of national security and not mere preference, you would have to explain how a law that denies all federal recognition to couples already married fulfills this interest in as non-obtrusive a manner as possible. Does the exclusion of federal benefits to same-sex couples already married encourage opposite-sex couples who would otherwise not get married to do so?

  • 17. shelostcontro1  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Banning same sex marriage does nothing to encourage heterosexuals to marry. Banning ssm doesn't affect heterosexuals at all.

  • 18. maggie4noh8  |  November 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Just passing this along…

  • 19. Ronnie  |  November 11, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    This is the deadly, dangerous, inhuman, hateful America NOM et al is creating & perpetuating……..

    Burned Torso Identified as That of Missing Transgender Detroit Teen:

    Protect the children? She was 19yo & someone's daughter. Anti-gay Inc. allies itself with soulless beings who want to mass murder LGBT people or throw them in prison just for living their lives honestly, openly, & as freely as fascists like NOM et al will allow like the slave drivers & dictators they are. How many straight people have been murdered in this country or even the world because they are straight? THAT WOULD BE A RESOUNDING ZERO!!!!!!…… Anti-gay Inc. is perpetuating this evil in this country & abroad. The blood of every child & adult that is killed because they are LGBT or take their own lives because of the harassment & bullying they are forced to endure because they are LGBT is on Maggie G.'s hands. She might as well have lit the apparatus that set Shelley Hilliard on fire. Tony P. might as well had been the one that dropped her body near a freeway. How can any of those low-lives look Shelley's mother in the eyes & call her daughter the demonizing & dehumanizing rhetoric they spout out? I'll tell you how, because everybody who is leading the anti-Equality agenda have NO SOULS. Only a soulless empty vessel is capable of talking about human beings the way they do. They get away with it because they hide behind video camera's, computer screens, phones, mailers, talking points, emails that they think only people that fall lock-in-step with them are reading, & so called religious "liberty" so they do not have to be face to face with a real live human being life that they seek to destroy in more ways then just physical violence. Shame on them. Shame on ALL of those BIGOTS that make up Anti-gay Inc. & the minions that bow down to them. This is the price of the hate that NOM et al enables & mark my words there will be a reckoning. SHAME!!!

    My condolences go out to Shelley's friends and family & I hope full & swift justice is brought to the animals that took her life.

    Tonight a mother grieves for her 19yo daughter…… > ( …Ronnie

  • 20. Ronnie  |  November 11, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Focus on Gay Youth at Occupy Wall Street:

    "We Are the Youth is a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in the United States. Through photographic portraits and "as told to" interviews in the participants' own voices, We Are the Youth captures the incredible diversity and uniqueness among the LGBT youth population. We Are the Youth addresses the lack of visibility of LGBT young people by providing a space to share stories in an honest and respectful way. Below is the story of Joey, age 19, of Brooklyn, N.Y."

    "We Are the Youth is currently profiling lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer young people throughout the United States."

    "A teacher at Pratt didn't think there was enough of an openly queer presence at Occupy Wall Street, and we wanted to show that that's not the case. That's why I was under the rainbow banner at Zuccotti Park last week chanting, "We're here, we're queer, we're not going shopping!" The 99 percent includes everyone, including us." ~ Joey, 19yo & a future artist.


  • 21. Eric  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:09 am

    Why didn't the Senate do this back when they have the largest majorities in a generation? Will Reid call a vote, so we can see who our true friends are?

  • 22. shelostcontro1  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    because blue dogs.

  • 23. Fluffyskunk  |  November 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Because it might actually have had more than a snowball's chance in hell of passing. And no, he won't, for that exact reason. If there's something the Democrats really love, it's sitting on the fence. 🙁

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