No good defense of DOMA

Seventeen senators joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California on Wednesday in sponsoring a bill that would repeal the anti-gay marriage law known as the Defense of Marriage Act.

The law, passed in 1996, defines marriage as only between a man and a woman and allows states to refuse to validate gay marriages sanctioned in other states. President Bill Clinton, who signed the recently repealed “Don’t ask, don’t tell” into law, also signed off on DOMA.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who voted for the act in 1996, was also one of the 17 co-sponsors of Feinstein’s bill to repeal it on Wednesday.

Murray’s critics are naturally calling her a hypocrite, but getting hung up on the 1996 vote isn’t a good way to defend DOMA, if there is one. Many of the men who pushed for the law, and the president who signed it, were later scandalized for having extra-marital affairs. There’s plenty enough hypocrisy to go around. Think of former senator and serial adulterer Newt Gingrich and former senator Larry “I am not gay” Craig. Or consider the thrice-married former Rep. Bob Barr, who pushed for law and was considered one of the most conservative members of Congress during his tenure — and who now supports the repeal of DOMA.

Hypocrites and non-hypocrites can and do change their minds. Which, in non-political arenas, is often seen as strength, rather than a weakness. The recent repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” illustrates this well. Public sentiment for change coincided with a military faced with shortages of qualified personnel. A shortage compounded greatly by the fact that the military was kicking out service members for no other reason that they were gay.

A Pew Research Poll released last week shows that Americans are becoming less conservative on social issues such as gay marriage, legalizing marijuana and abortion, reported. The poll shows that 45 percent of Americans favor gay marriage, while 46 percent are in opposition. Just 10 years ago, Americans opposed gay marriage by nearly 2-1.

Currently, five states and the District of Columbia permit gay marriages. Other states, such as Washington, allow domestic partnerships, which give same-sex couples most legal rights afforded married couples, but stops short of marriage. Repealing DOMA doesn’t mean other states would have to recognize the same-sex marriages as legal, but the federal government would. Same sex couples would have the full protection of federal laws, such as allowing Social Security benefits for surviving spouses.

Repealing DOMA is the first step in the right direction to the eventual inevitability — giving all Americans the right to marry.

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