Thursday, September 17, 2009

Respect for Marriage Act Introduced

I am very happy to see the Respect for Marriage Act intriduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY). The bill is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was passed back in 1996 before there were any states, or other countries, that legally recognized same-sex unions. I know there will be many who will see this bill as some kind of attack on existing marriage or somehow trying to force all of the United States, and religions therein, to accept, perform, and celebrate marriages by same-sex couples; but that is not the case with this bill.

DOMA, in short, defines the only marriages recognized by the federal government as between a man and a woman. In effect, this has caused many gay and lesbian couples to still be denied many of the rights, protections, and responsibilities granted by marriage and regulated by the federal government (upwards of 1,000 in all) even when they are fully, legally recognized as married by their state. This federal loophole has created a number of SNAFU situations with married gay and lesbian couples. For example, in the state of Massachusetts, the first state to license same-sex marriages, filing taxes is problematic. The Massachusetts state tax filing laws require a person to file in the state using the same status as they did for their federal return. Although a couple is legally recognized by the state, the federal government does not recognize their marriage, and therefore each person must file federally as single. In turn the state effectively requires them to also file as single. I have long felt this unequal recognition of marriages by the federal government, while it is up to the states to determine their own marriage laws, Constitutionally questionable.

The Respect of Marriage Act is only to repeal DOMA and return the federal government back to its previous method of marriage recognition: if the state legally recognizes the marriage the federal government legally recognizes the marriage. Period. There is nothing telling any person, religion, or state what marriages they may or may not recognize, license, or celebrate. The First Amendment clearly protects these rights of religions to choose their own qualifications for religious marriage. What the passing of the Respect for Marriage Act will do is allow those gay and lesbian couples who are licensed a marriage will be able to receive the rights, benefits, and responsibilities given to all married couples to help them strengthen and maintain their relationship, thereby strengthening the communities and societies they live in.

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