Lieberman and the Defense of Marriage Act: A State’s Rights Issue

Author: Daniela Altimari
Publication: Hartford Courant
Publication Date: November 17th, 2011

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Sen. Joseph Lieberman took a leading role in repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy last year, but his stance on another gay rights issue is frustrating some activists.

Lieberman is the sole member of the Connecticut delegation that has not signed on as a consponsor of a bill that would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

Signed into law by then-President Clinton in 1996, the law defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, something Lieberman wants to see repealed.

But the controversial policy also stipulates that no state is required to recognize a same-sex union performed in a state where such marriages are recognized and it is that aspect of the DOMA that Lieberman supports.

The independent senator met with constituents in Hartford on Monday and told them "he believes that in our constitutional system it is the states that determine what constitutes marriage,'' his press secretary, Whitney Phillips, said in an email.

Yesterday, Freedom to Marry, along with the Courage Campaign, the ACLU of Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and other groups, launched an online drive to press Lieberman on the subject. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, is also being targeted.

"Earlier this year, Senator Lieberman demonstrated incredible courage when he successfully led the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t’ Tell.” Now it’s time for Senator Lieberman to show similar leadership to end discrimination against Connecticut families,'' states a letter signed by Anne Stanback, former executive director of Love Makes a Family and board chair of Freedom to Marry Action.

Phillips said Monday's meeting, held in Lieberman's Hartford office was "thoughtful and productive." The senator backs repeal of the portion of the DOMA that defines marriage.

"[H]e believes it is unfair to deny federal benefits that married people are entitled to under federal law to same sex couples who are residents of states like Connecticut in which same sex marriages are legal,'' Phillips wrote.

But, she added, Lieberman also believes states that have not legalized same-sex unions ought to be forced to recognize "the different policy decision on marriage made by states like Connecticut."