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Grassley, King press importance of DOMA during Senate hearing
The two members of Iowa’s federal delegation who took part in historic Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on possible repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act remained adamant that the federal prohibition on recognition of same-sex marriage needs to remain.
Echoing what his staff told The Iowa Independent in advance of the Congressional hearing, Grassley added, “That is the view of marriage that I support.”
The Respect for Marriage Act, HR 1116, and Respect for Marriage Act of 2011, S 598, are identical bills. The House version was introduced in March by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, and the Senate version was introduced at the same time by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.
Both seek to repeal the now 15-year-old law that defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman, and denies legally married same-sex married couples the same federal rights and protections afforded to opposite-sex couples. For instance, such couples in Iowa can file state returns jointly, but cannot do the same with their federal tax returns. Likewise, same-sex couples are barred from receiving spousal benefits under Social Security and aren’t covered by unpaid family leave laws.
Grassley noted that the law was passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. He said the measure passed by an 85-to-41 vote in the U.S. Senate, making it “truly a bipartisan bill,” and he added that many of those now supporting repeal voted favorably for the bill at the time.
“One of the witnesses before us today says DOMA was passed for only one reason — to express disapproval for gay and lesbian people. I know this to be false,” Grassley said, his voice rising. “Senators at the time … and representatives at the time … did not support DOMA to express disapproval of gay and lesbian people. Neither did I.”
U.S. Rep. Steve King was one of three U.S. House members and the only Republican to provide testimony. The Congressional panel included U.S. Reps. Nadler and John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, with King being the lone advocate for continuance of DOMA.
Lewis, for instance, described the law as “a stain on our American society” and equated it to civil rights challenges previously faced by interracial couples: “Civil rights, human rights, these are issues of dignity.”
King focused his comments on the historical importance of marriage as a building block of society worldwide.“DOMA was passed in 1996 because Congress and President Clinton understood that civil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing.”
The proposed legislation, according to King, insinuates that the government no longer has these interests.
“The other side argues that you can’t choose who you love, and that a union between two men or two women is equal to that of one man and one woman. But these are the same arguments that could be used to promote marriage between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons or even polygamous relationships,” he said.
King, who helped author and pass Iowa’s now defunct law barring same-sex marriage, also voice his displeasure with the situation in Iowa.
“In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a lawless decision in Varnum v. Brien. Seven Iowa Supreme Court justices decided to legislate from the bench. They struck down Iowa’s DOMA law, and to read their decision brings one to the conclusion that these justices believe they have the authority to find the Constitution itself unconstitutional,” he said.
“They even went so far as to say that rights to same-sex marriage ‘were at one time unimagined.’ When Iowans went to polls on November 2, 2010, they sent a message to the Supreme Court of Iowa. They rejected the Varnum decision and historically ousted all three justices who were up for retention, including Chief Justice Marsha Ternus.”
The Iowa Supreme Court determined that “Iowa Code section 595.2 violates the equal protection provision of the Iowa Constitution.” Section 595.2 discussed the gender and age requirements for a marriage to be recognized by the state. The first provision was the state’s DOMA, which stated “only a marriage between a male and a female is valid.”
From the Varnum decision:
Iowa Code section 595.2 is unconstitutional because the County has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage. A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution. This record, our independent research, and the appropriate equal protection analysis do not suggest the existence of a justification for such a legislative classification that substantially furthers any governmental objective. Consequently, the language in Iowa Code section 595.2 limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.
Noting that the Obama administration directed the U.S. Department of Justice to no longer defend DOMA, King said “it is not the role of the executive branch to determine what is an is not constitutional.” The role of the executive branch, he concluded, “is to execute and uphold the laws that Congress enacts.”
Video of the full committee hearing is available on the Senate Judiciary Committee website.