Oct 15 2009

Congressman Nadler is from New York City and the primary sponsor of legislation repealing DOMA. He historically has been among the best in Congress for LGBT rights and this brave act continues in that tradition. We welcome his guest editorial today.

While there is much justifiable frustration within the LGBT community about the slow pace of progress in the longstanding fight for equality, I think that the year 2009 has materialized as a watershed moment for LGBT issues and rights on the national stage. Beyond marking the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots this summer, it seems that each month this year has brought a new development – some positive, like the rise of marriage equality in a growing number of states, and others negative, such as the deeply troubling Department of Justice brief which compared same-sex marriage to incest. The feeling in Congress, and the sense that I have gotten from my friends and allies in the LGBT community, is that, more than ever, LGBT issues are coming to the fore, gaining momentum, and drawing a wider and wider swathe of Americans into the movement for equal rights.

This weekend’s National Equality March was the perfect culmination of the vast reserves of energy, anger, emotion and activism within the nation’s LGBT community. Congratulations to David Mixner, Cleve Jones and many others for a well-organized and well-focused effort.

Just last week in Congress, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010 which includes the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a seminal piece of civil rights legislation that will greatly increase law enforcement resources for the prosecution of hate crimes, particularly those targeting the LGBT community. I am proud to have worked on this legislation for years and fought until the very end to ensure that it was included in the Defense bill.

Currently, there are a number of extremely important LGBT-themed bills on the congressional agenda, including: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, the Uniting American Families Act (which is my bill to allow binational same-sex couples to sponsor the foreign partner for U.S. citizenship), and the Respect for Marriage Act, which I introduced on September 15th, along with Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jared Polis (D-CO) and a total of 101 co-sponsors to date.

The Respect for Marriage Act will repeal, once and for all, the overtly discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in its entirety. This critical legislation comes on the heels of many months of strategizing with LGBT and civil rights leaders and fellow legislators. Signed into law in 1996, DOMA is an especially obnoxious and ugly law which singles out gay and lesbian married couples for discrimination under federal law. The law deprives same-sex couples of the legal rights and responsibilities that other couples enjoy. It purports to allow states to opt out of recognizing valid same-sex marriages performed in other states, and it officially defines marriage as between “one man and one woman,” thus preventing federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages.

Our legislation will return the law to the common sense system of states’ rights and discretion that was in place before DOMA, a reform that has garnered widespread support from disparate quarters. Recently, both President Clinton, who signed DOMA into law, and former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA), who wrote the legislation, have come out against it and endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act.

It’s hard not to feel that the tide is beginning to turn for the growing national movement for equal rights for LGBT Americans. As always, I am passionately committed to fighting to pass these bills – and others – which will provide equality under the law, and I will not stop until we succeed. There is no excuse for official discrimination, for treating certain classes of citizens worse than others, or for state-sanctioned inequality in the United States in 2009. I am looking forward to working closely with the LGBT community as we journey forward.