April 06, 2008
Accessing those 1,200 federal benefits
Posted by: Andoni
Last week on Chris Mathews’ Hardball College Tour at West Chester College, Barack Obama was asked by a gay student if he supported civil marriage for same-sex couples. Obama answered that he did not support gay marriage but rather “strong civil unions,” where all 1,200 federal benefits of marriage are bestowed on gay couples in civil unions:
Similarly, in her interview with the Philadelphia Gay News, Hillary Clinton said she would like to “extend the same access to federal benefits across the board” to couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships. She wasn’t as definitive as Obama and she didn’t reference the 1,200 benefits, but she did lean in the direction of wanting federal benefits for gay couples.
My first thought as a guy person in a same-sex binational relationship was whether whoever was compiling this list of 1,200 benefits had included immigration rights on it. And then I wondered who is keeping this list anyway?
A quick email to Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, got me a list of those 1,200 benefits, compiled by the General Accounting Office. To my relief, immigration is listed (Category 6, page 7). It also got me an interpretation of these benefits from the Freedom to Marry website.
So with two presidential candidates who want to extend federal benefits to legally partnered same-sex couples, the question is how best to do it? Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act? That will only benefit the people in Massachusetts, where same sex marriage is legal, but not those in Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, California, Washington, Oregon or the District of Columbia -- all of which have some form of civil union or domestic partnership.
Can federal benefits be extended to same sex couples in states that have partnership laws by simply passing a federal law mandating it? What about DOMA?
As a non-attorney, I would argue that repealing DOMA, passed way back in 1996, is unnecessary. A new federal law recognizing gay partnerships for federal benefits would conflict with DOMA but be more recent -- the more recent federal law would govern. Still, for married gay couples in Massachusetts, DOMA would have to be repealed.
Whether I'm right or not, it's passing strange that with two presidential candidates publicly advocating federal recognition of gay couples, we have not heard anything from our national organizations about how best to get the ball rolling.
HRC, NGLTF, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Lambda Legal? I’m calling you out here.
This is a big thing Obama and Clinton are proposing; a huge deal. I'm dismayed that no groundwork is being laid by our national leadership.
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