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Frank critical of DOMA bill

by Lisa Keen
Monday Sep 21, 2009
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A bill seeking to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act was introduced Tuesday, September 15, but what has been called the "top priority" for the LGBT community is already relegated to a legislative obscurity and inaction for this session and, perhaps, beyond, according to one gay representative.

The bill, introduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), a longtime supporter of equal rights for gays, has essentially no chance for a hearing or vote during this session of Congress, according to openly gay Representative Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts). It is the last of eight bills of specific interest to the LGBT community to be introduced to this session of Congress, which is nearing the end of the first of its two years. And Frank, the de facto leader on LGBT-related measures in Congress, said four other bills come first.

"We have pending four major pieces of [LGBT] legislation which have a serious chance to pass," Frank said Monday in a phone interview.

Those, he noted, are the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill, attached to a bill authorizing defense spending; the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; a bill to give equal benefits to the partners of gay federal employees as provided to straight spouses; and a bill to repeal the military’s anti-gay "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy.

The Nadler bill, said Frank, "has zero chance of passage, even out of committee. It’s a mistake."

Frank’s problem with the bill isn’t just its timing on a crowded and unusually urgent congressional calendar monopolized by health care reform, financial regulation reform, appropriations bills, and the other LGBT legislation.

"It’s a very controversial form" of the bill, he said.

Nadler’s bill, the Respect for Marriage Act, is a simple two-page measure. It seeks to repeal both sections of DOMA - Section 2, which says no state can be "required" to recognize the marriage of a same-sex couple licensed in another state, and Section 3, which limits the interpretation of "marriage" for any federal purpose to only heterosexual couples.

The Respect for Marriage Act also would add language that says "for the purposes of any federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the state where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any state, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a state."

Frank says the latter clause abandons the strategy of "dealing with marriage state by state." If a same-sex couple obtains a marriage license in Massachusetts and moves to California, the federal government would recognize their marriage in California.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry organization, helped write that latter provision, which has been dubbed the "certainty clause."

"It’s called the ’certainty clause,’" said Wolfson, in a phone interview after the news conference, "because it establishes certainty that your federal protections and responsibilities will remain with you no matter where you travel" as a same-sex married couple.

"The federal government will have a consistent approach. And it’s not telling states what to do," said Wolfson.

Frank conceded that it’s "a desirable goal," but said, "we’re not remotely close to achieving it and it’s unwise politically." For that reason, said Frank, he’s not one of the bill’s current 90 co-sponsors.

But doesn’t Frank’s refusal to co-sponsor the bill, even as a starting point for discussion, essentially kill the bill before it’s out of the chute?

"It does send a message that it’s a bad idea," said Frank. "But I want to send a message."


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