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DOMA repeal unlikely in ’09

by Matthew S. Bajko
Tuesday Apr 28, 2009
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Repealing the federal ban on recognizing same-sex relationships is unlikely to be addressed by lawmakers in Washington, D.C. this year, as congressional leaders and national LGBT groups have other gay-related bills as higher priorities.

Before they tackle the hot button issue of same-sex marriage, congressional leaders want to pass a pro-LGBT hate crimes bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban firing someone based solely on their sexual orientation and is expected to also include gender identity protections. House leaders began working on the hate crimes bill Wednesday, April 22 and the Senate is likely to introduce its version prior to the Memorial Day recess.

During a visit to San Francisco last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) stated DOMA repeal was not at the top of her list of priorities when asked about the issue by the Bay Area Reporter.

"Our plate is full right now with our focus on health care, energy, and the issues related to the economy. We have ENDA as a top priority," said Pelosi. "We have the hate crimes legislation first and the ENDA bill the next step after that."

Pelosi did not rule out addressing DOMA at a later date, and she said she is relying on gay leaders such as Congressmen Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) and Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) to advise her on how to move forward in repealing the federal ban on recognizing same-sex relationships.

"I would like to get rid of all of it. But the fact is we have to make decisions on what we can pass at a given time. It doesn’t mean the other issues are not important," said Pelosi. "It is a matter of getting the votes and the legislative floor time to do it."

The Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBT advocacy group, has also made passing ENDA and hate crimes its top legislative agenda this year. Hate crimes legislation has been before Congress for a decade, and was passed by both houses in 2007.

But it was stripped from the bill in conference committee before being sent to then President George W. Bush due to his vow to veto it. Unlike his predecessor, President Obama has pledged to sign both hate crimes and ENDA into law.

HRC spokesman Brad Luna said that the hate crimes bill is a "piece of legislation voted on and passed by Congress before. After 10 years it needs to be signed into law."

Unlike the other two issues, which have wide support in Congress and are expected to pass this year, the same groundwork has yet to take place on securing support to repeal DOMA, said Luna.

"As far as legislative priorities, obviously repeal of DOMA is something we are going to actively work in support of. That being said, the way legislation moves through Congress and the way we look at these bills, no DOMA repeal bill has been introduced right now," said Luna. "Our priority is hate crimes, which is being marked up today. If you speak to Frank, Baldwin, Pelosi or the president, that is the first order of business."

"If you go back and look at what Congressman Frank has said, for all intents and purposes, he has the best read on Congress and where they stand on gay issues, and he would say to you, yes we need to work on DOMA repeal but we are not looking at that in the first year," added Luna.

Frank aide Diego Sanchez, who is transgender and formerly worked with an AIDS agency in Boston, has yet to respond to the B.A.R. ’s request for an interview with the congressman.

As a report posted online last week to the Advocate ’s Web site noted, conversations on just what kind of DOMA repeal bill should be introduced are taking place. The issue has gained more immediacy in recent weeks as Iowa and Vermont have now legalized same-sex marriages, several other states are looking to follow suit, and a New England gay rights group filed a federal lawsuit against a section of DOMA.

The idea that appears to be gaining traction in Congress is to seek a partial repeal of DOMA that would allow the federal government to recognize those same-sex relationships - whether they be marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships - allowed in individual states. It would be left up to state leaders to decide what kind of legal recognition to offer same-sex couples in their states.

"The first thing first is we have to have a bill introduced and then build support around it and see where we stand," said Luna, who predicted a DOMA repeal bill would be introduced during Obama’s first term.


Next: Presidential support



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