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Cracks in DOMA: a new era of LGBT equality

UAFA Senate Judiciary hearing

at the UAFA Senate Judiciary hearing

So much has been going on in the last few weeks it’s making my head spin. June 3 Lin and I were in Washington for the historic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Uniting American Families Act, which would give LGBT families like ours access to immigration and end the exile of LGBT Americans.

For 10 years I’ve been hoping, waiting and looking forward to the day that I am a first-class citizen in my own country, just like I am in the Netherlands, my country of exile. That day is starting to dawn, and it’s about time. We are seeing cracks in the vintage Clinton-era 1995 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Ironicallly, Bill’s spouse Hillary Clinton blew the first hole in DOMA by committing to give rights to unmarried same-sex partners of foreign service employees. Michael Guest, former ambassador and openly gay U.S. Ambassador and now a Senior Advisor to the Council for Global Equality, left his diplomatic career during the Bush administration “because he believed that the country he served was failing to implement the principles of equality it espoused abroad.” His move brought to light yet another instance of discrimination, which the Obama administration has acted on in an executive order signed on 17 June 2009. Partners of foreign service and executive branch employees now have a limited set of rights. President Obama called it a first step and used the opportunity to call on congress to repeal  DOMA, which he called discriminatory and interfering with state rights. He made a commitment to work with congress to overturn it.

Great stuff. From where I’m sitting over here across the big pond, it’s clear to see steps being taken that move us toward our goal of full equality. I hear a call to work tirelessly, as the President has again promised to do himself, to win our rights. They will not be handed to us.

What’s next? Congressman Jerold Nadler is preparing legislation to repeal DOMA, which he plans to introduce after the July 4 recess. He is responding beautifully to President Obama’s request to work with him to repeal DOMA and bring equality to all Americans.

In the meantime, many in our community are angry that the Obama administration is enforcing discriminatory laws such as DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as law of the land. There is outrage in particular about Obama’s Department Justice response to a lawsuit seeking to end DOMA. It’s not a pretty brief to read, upholding the right of the government to discriminate against LGBT families. Our community is justifiably outraged at the vigorous defense of an unjust law. I am not going to go into the details here – there has already been much analysis, questions asked, and actions proposed to demand equality now.

Frankly, we’re acting like a bunch of angry three-year-olds. It reminds me of the time in third grade when I invited my teacher to see our neighbor’s 100-year-old piano, imported on a ship from Europe all the way around the tip of South America, before the Panama Canal was built. I was so excited that she was coming to see me and my life. I waited on the curb for hours, with my best friend and our favorite dolls beside us. I waited. And waited. She didn’t show. I felt angry and betrayed. I decided I’m never ever again to going invite anyone into my life again. I am not going to trust. I don’t need you or anyone.

Well folks, we do need each other. We need the support of our legislators and our president. They are not going to give support to every good idea that comes along. Of course Obama cares about equality for all Americans. Why else would he waste airtime on CNN this week taking a stand against DOMA? He cares. And not just about us. He cares about health care for all Americans. He cares about resolving the financial crisis and getting Americans back to work with mortgages they can afford. He cares about fixing our broken immigration system and stopping the deportation of parents of American children.

What we do we care about? What can our government count on us for? There is so much at stake. Now is the time for us to win equality. Did we think it would all be done and dusted by now – five months after Obama’s inauguration? Are we ready to retreat to an angry defensive position, withdrawing support from key initiatives that will transform the lives of millions of Americans, like health care reform? We need to to stand for what is right, if we expect our elected representatives to do the same.

And about the DOJ defense of DOMA: there are two other cases working their way through the system, including the GLAD lawsuit. If the courts are to strike down DOMA, the GLAD case may be our best chance. I suspect that the Obama administratation has a strategy, and it is not to throw us off the bus. I choose a more empowering context: the DOJ brief is aimed at killing the weakest lawsuit against DOMA to allow the others, which have a better chance to win, a chance. The right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Trust. And there is work to do to convince our legislators to act now.

-Martha McDevitt-Pugh

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2 comments on “Cracks in DOMA: a new era of LGBT equality

  1. James Ashburn
    June 22, 2009

    I am doing all I can almost daily to contact our legislators. I hope we all can win immigration equality, soon. I am looking forward to the day when we can obtain full equality across the board–by repealing DOMA. It will happen, we just have to remain diligent to make it happen!
    James, also in The Netherlands in exile.

  2. oblogdeeoblogda
    June 28, 2009

    Hey Martha very well said! I have actually just written two related peices . The one on HRC – I would love you and LIn to comment if need be tyo my private email. I have lost so many emails and finally got a new PC laptop yesterday so now I have my motivation to write again. Much love to you and yours, mel

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This entry was posted on June 20, 2009 by in US Legislation and tagged , , .

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