Bob Barr: DOMA must go
January 7, 2009
I was meaning to post this news yesterday - but it's honestly no less surprising today: Former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr (R) called for the end of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a must-read LA Times editorial on Monday. DOMA is the anti-marriage equality bill he wrote in 1996.
It's worth excerpting his article at length:
Contrary to the wishes of a number of my Republican colleagues, I crafted the legislation so it wasn't a hammer the federal government could use to force states to recognize only unions between a man and a woman. Congress deliberately chose not to establish a single, nationwide definition of marriage.
However, we did incorporate into DOMA's second part a definition of marriage that comported with the historic -- and, at the time, widely accepted -- view of the institution as being between a man and a woman only. But this definition was to be used solely to interpret provisions of federal law related to spouses.
The first part of DOMA, then, is a partial bow to principles of federalism, protecting the power of each state to determine its definition of marriage. The second part sets a legal definition of marriage only for purposes of federal law, but not for the states. That was the theory.
I've wrestled with this issue for the last several years and come to the conclusion that DOMA is not working out as planned. In testifying before Congress against a federal marriage amendment, and more recently while making my case to skeptical Libertarians as to why I was worthy of their support as their party's presidential nominee, I have concluded that DOMA is neither meeting the principles of federalism it was supposed to, nor is its impact limited to federal law.
In effect, DOMA's language reflects one-way federalism: It protects only those states that don't want to accept a same-sex marriage granted by another state. Moreover, the heterosexual definition of marriage for purposes of federal laws -- including, immigration, Social Security survivor rights and veteran's benefits -- has become a de facto club used to limit, if not thwart, the ability of a state to choose to recognize same-sex unions.
Even more so now than in 1996, I believe we need to reduce federal power over the lives of the citizenry and over the prerogatives of the states. It truly is time to get the federal government out of the marriage business. In law and policy, such decisions should be left to the people themselves.
Granted, Barr's stated love of federalism clearly trounches the idea of him suddenly finding some new fuzzy feelings for the gays, but him calling for the repeal of his own divisive law - one of the signature pieces of his career - is still a step in the right direction. We want DOMA overturned yesterday.
And remember when Barr spoke out against Don't Ask Don't Tell in the Wall Street Journal in June 2007?
PS, here's an interesting side note: My colleague Rachel Balick and I actually took a rather unexpected elevator ride with Barr here in the HRC headquarters a few weeks ago. Imagine our shock when I stuck out my hand to stop the closing elevator doors and Barr walked on! He apparently got off on one of the upper floors we rent out in our building - one that houses a progressive consulting group.
Maybe someone there has finally talked some sense into that man....
***UPDATE: Join the Impact is asking the LGBT community to sign an open letter to President-elect Obama and to participate in a nationwide protest against DOMA this Saturday, January 10. To determine if there's an organized DOMA protest in your state, click here.