The time has come to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Enacted 13 years ago when the idea of same sex marriage was struggling for acceptance, the Act is a relic of a more tradition-bound time and culture.
Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts have already passed laws recognizing same sex marriage and other states are moving in that direction. The states are the proper forum to address this divisive social and moral issue, not the Federal Government with a law that attempts to set one national standard for marriage.
Prohibition showed just how difficult it is to enforce law establishing standards of personal behavior or morality. Coercion, whether civic or legal, in matters of this kind rarely works. It certainly won't halt public controversy surrounding the issue.
The repeal of DOMA is one step among several designed to fully integrate and protect the rights of gays and lesbians in American society. Recently enacted hate crimes legislation is another. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S 909), which I sponsored with the late Senator Kennedy, makes it a federal crime to target victims on the basis of disability, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. President Obama has said he will sign the measure.
Nothing in the Act impedes the lawful expression of one's political or religious beliefs. All Americans are entitled to hold and express their own beliefs, no matter how provocative. At the same time, no person has the right to engage in violent acts of hate or incite to violence. Protecting Americans against such hate crimes does not inhibit free speech but rather serves us all by halting and penalizing those who carry out those acts of cruelty.
Measures to combat discrimination against gays and transgendered people in the workplace are another needed measure. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009, of which I am an original cosponsor, was introduced on August 5, 2009 and is currently before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Finally, the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is outdated, and should be rescinded entirely. A person's sexual orientation has no bearing on their ability to serve their country in the armed services. Countless studies and the experiences of gays who have served in the military have borne out these findings.