Overturning federal marriage discrimination is a key part of Freedom to Marry’s three-track Roadmap to Victory, which also includes winning marriage in more states and growing and diversifying the majority for marriage.
Same-sex couples in the United States experience two layers of marriage discrimination: state and federal. Loving and committed couples who are gay are excluded from marriage by most states, which issue marriage licenses and regulate marriage in the first instance. And even those same-sex couples who are legally married are not respected by the federal government, which treats their marriages as second-class and withholds the 1,138+ protections and responsibilities afforded married couples at the federal level. This critical federal safety-net for married couples and their families, as well as employers, businesses, and others dealing with the couple, include include Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights, joint tax filings, and family and medical leave.
To end federal marriage discrimination, we must overturn the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and return the federal government to its longstanding practice of honoring marriages celebrated in the states -- without a “gay exception.” Freedom to Marry is tackling that work by spearheading a sustained and focused campaign to end federal marriage discrimination. Freedom to Marry’s Federal Program educates and enlists Beltway decision-makers, elected officials, and influencers to make the case for the freedom to marry, while building support for the Respect for Marriage Act that would overturn DOMA.
Freedom to Marry’s Federal Program
Freedom to Marry’s Federal Program has three goals:
- Elevate the marriage conversation in federal circles to empower decision-makers, including the Supreme Court;
- Advance the Respect for Marriage Act and overturn DOMA;
- Use federal work to synergize and stimulate nationally, to win more states and grow the majority for marriage.
Freedom to Marry set three goals for our work with the White House:
- To persuade the Obama Administration to apply heightened scrutiny to sexual orientation discrimination, and to stop defend DOMA in court, because it is unconstitutional. (Goal Met 2/23/11)
- To encourage the President to endorse the Respect for Marriage Act. (Goal Met 7/19/11)
- To help the President complete his journey and join the majority of Americans in supporting the freedom to marry. (Goal Met 5/9/12)
Through public encouragement, grassroots advocacy, and lobbying, we have succeeded in all three objectives.
In a statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, President Obama endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act on July 19, 2011. The Obama Administration instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending DOMA in court in February 2011 and called for heightened scrutiny – a presumption that sexual orientation discrimination is unconstitutional, rather than okay -- in federal lawsuits.
On our third objective, Freedom to Marry worked hard to encourage President Obama to complete his journey and join the majority of Americans in favor of the freedom to marry. In March 2011, Freedom to Marry launched its Say, “I Do” campaign with an Open Letter signed by civil rights leaders, tech entrepreneurs, pro athletes, and Hollywood celebrities signed by more than 120,000 Americans. On May 9, 2012, President Obama became the first sitting president to public announce his support for the freedom to marry.
For 2011, Freedom to Marry set four goals for our work on Capitol Hill:
- To see our Respect for Marriage Act bill introduced in the Senate and reintroduced in the House. (Goal Met 3/16/11)
- To increase the number of co-sponsors. (As of Sept. 2012, 156 House co-sponsors and 33 Senate co-sponsors)
- To get a Senate hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act. (Goal Met 7/20/11)
- To get the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act. (Goal Met 11/10/11)
On March 16, 2011, the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in the Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and in the House by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
To increase congressional support for the bill, Freedom to Marry is:
- Deploying its bipartisan team of lobbyists to meet directly with members of Congress and their staffs on Capitol Hill.
- Mobilizing grassroots advocates across the country to encourage their members of Congress to co-sponsor the bill.
- Partnering with state advocacy organizations to set up in-district meetings with members of Congress.
- Launching, together with the Human Rights Campaign, the Respect for Marriage Coalition to repeal DOMA and pass the Respect for Marriage Act, while making the case within the Beltway for the freedom to marry.
The first-ever congressional hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act was held on July 20, 2011 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Witnesses who delivered testimony at the hearing included Freedom to Marry’s President Evan Wolfson and Ron Wallen, a widower from California who spoke eloquently about how he’s likely to lose the home he shared with Tom, his recently deceased partner of 58 years. DOMA prevents Ron from collecting the Social Security survivor benefits accrued by Tom even though they were married in 2008.
Freedom to Marry's Federal Office
Earlier in 2011, Freedom to Marry hired Federal Director Jo Deutsch and opened a DC office as part of our focused and comprehensive approach to overturning DOMA. If you have any questions or suggestions for Jo, you can email her at email@example.com.
TAKE ACTION: End federal marriage discrimination
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