Senate Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
In advance of tomorrow’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on “S.598, The Respect for Marriage Act: Assessing the Impact of DOMA on American Families,” we write to urge your support for this measure. This legislation would repeal the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA)” and permit all lawfully married couples — including same-sex couples — to receive the full range of benefits of marriage under federal law. Under current law, same-sex couples are denied certain rights and benefits afforded to other couples, including health insurance, life insurance, pensions, and leave to care for sick or disabled family members.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is committed to protecting the civil rights of all persons and to ensuring that all Americans are afforded equal treatment under the law. As an organization that combats anti-Semitism, bigotry, and discrimination of all kinds, the League has been in the forefront of efforts to secure equal rights for LGBT persons, including efforts to secure equal rights for same-sex marriages.
To be treated equally, same-sex couples must have the same access to marriage – a fundamental right – as other couples. DOMA stands as an unacceptable barrier to equal access to the full range of benefits of civil marriage for same-sex couples. In fact, there are over 1,100 federal benefits, rights, and opportunities granted to married couples that are now unavailable to same-sex couples in state-sanctioned marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. DOMA prevents same-sex couples from obtaining the recognition, benefits, security, and support provided to other couples married under the civil law.
Equal access to civil marriage for all loving, committed couples – without regard to sexual orientation – is fully consistent with the broad liberty principles underlying the Bill of Rights. Current law, on the other hand, which mandates unequal status for same-sex couples, is not merely a denial of rights and benefits, it is a denial of the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Constitution. The denial of civil marriage to same-sex couples sends the unacceptable message that we live in a two-tiered society, where some have legal rights that are denied to others.
ADL is also concerned about DOMA’s First Amendment Establishment Clause and Free Exercise implications. DOMA improperly breaches the separation between religious and civil definitions of marriage by incorporating one religious definition of marriage into federal law. Views on marriage vary widely within and between religious groups in this country. While some religious adherents hold strong views opposing same-sex marriage, almost universally there are others groups within that same denomination or other denominations that either support same sex marriage, or recognize the need for separation of their sacred text teachings from the civil and court institution of marriage.
In any event, the particular faith traditions and beliefs of any religious group should have no bearing on an institution that is purely civil in nature. Civil marriage is an institution separate from religion. A marriage performed by a religious institution does not qualify as a legal, state-sponsored marriage, just as no court-licensed marriage holds religious weight. While moral beliefs play a significant role in shaping the public policy views of citizens and legislators, it is improper and unconstitutional for government to allow particular religious principles to dictate the breadth of rights and opportunities available to all Americans.
We urge you to support the Respect for Marriage Act of 2011. The time is ripe for ending unfair discrimination and ending the insecurity same-sex couples face because of DOMA and the patchwork of inconsistent state laws and legal protections. Our nation is best served by ensuring the constitutional right to civil marriage is granted, protected, and honored for all Americans.
Deborah M Lauter
Civil Rights Director
Director, Washington Office