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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

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Momentum for DOMA Repeal Continues to Build

Posted: 07/20/11 10:59 AM ET

This year, we have seen historic progress for LGBT rights, in particular on marriage equality, at both the state and federal levels.

Most recently, of course, I was thrilled when my home state of New York passed marriage equality. The law goes into effect on Sunday and I can't wait to see the images of so many loving couples lining up for marriage licenses. I also look forward to attending some of my good friends' weddings this year!

In addition to New York's historic victory, we're making significant progress at the federal level as well. Back in March, you'll recall the Obama Administration took the unprecedented step of announcing it would cease to defend the constitutionality of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA.) This discriminatory law prohibits the federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages all over the country and prevents loving same-sex couples from enjoying over 1,100 rights and privileges afforded to married straight couples by the federal government.

Then, this past April, I was proud to join Senator Feinstein, Senator Leahy and several other of my colleagues in introducing the Respect For Marriage Act. This bill will repeal DOMA and require the US government to treat all legally married couples equally under the law.

I also launched an online campaign with Democracy For America to increase awareness of the issue and build support for repeal nationwide.

In addition, just this week Quinnipiac University released a poll showing that 59% of Americans would support the repeal of a law that denies "spouses in same-sex marriages ... eligibility for federal benefits," which is precisely what DOMA does.

Then yesterday, I was thrilled to see the President endorse The Respect For Marriage Act, just a day before the bill has its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning.

The momentum in this fight is clearly on our side.

Even as we in Congress work to repeal DOMA legislatively, there are lawsuits challenging its constitutionality progressing through the courts around the country, one of which has been brought in federal court here in New York by an inspiring woman named Edie Windsor from New York City. Edie and her partner Thea first met in 1965, got engaged in 1967 and remained engaged for 40 years before traveling to Canada to get married in 2007. You see, it was in 2007 that Thea -- who had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis years earlier -- received a dire diagnosis and they felt they had little time if they wanted to marry. And indeed, Thea passed away in January 2009.

Upon Thea's death, Edie discovered that while New York recognized their marriage, the United States of America treated Edie and Thea as complete strangers. Most notably, Edie had to pay exorbitant estate taxes on the inheritance she received from Thea -- something straight married couples are exempted from.

See Edie tell her remarkable love story in her own words below:


It's stories like Edie's that inspire me every day to fight this unjust law and to work toward full LGBT equality in this country. And it's why DFA and I have begun to collect the stories of Americans who've been affected by DOMA. Please spread the word to anyone you know whose life has been harmed by DOMA so they can tell us their story. For only through putting faces and names on this shameful policy will we be able to change hearts and minds and repeal it once and for all.

While this weekend we will -- and should -- celebrate the fact that in New York same-sex couples will finally be able to marry, the fact remains that the federal government will continue to treat these loving couples as though they're strangers. This is a wrong we must right.

We did it with Don't Ask Don't Tell, and I know we can do it with DOMA. It won't happen overnight, but now is the time to start raising awareness and fighting for the repeal of this shameful law.

 

Follow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenGillibrand