(Host) The U.S. Senate waded into the debate over gay marriage Wednesday with a hearing on whether the "Defense of Marriage Act" should be repealed.
That law is also known as DOMA, and prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony about how the law denies married federal marriage benefits.
Senator Patrick Leahy is chairman of the committee and a co-sponsor of the proposal to repeal DOMA. He points out that six states and the District of Columbia have authorized same-sex marriage.
(Leahy) "But unfortunately the protection these states provides to married couples are overridden by the operation of DOMA. And I’m concerned that DOMA has created a tier of second-class families in states like Vermont."
(Host) There is also support in Washington for keeping DOMA on the books.
Iowa Senator Charles Grassley says the law protects states that want to maintain their own regulations regarding marriage.
(Grassley) "I do support the rights of states to make changes in marriage if they choose. But I also believe that a state that changes its definition of marriage should not be able to impose that change on sister states or the federal government.
(Host) Some gay and lesbian witnesses say the law discriminates against them and their partners.
One of the witnesses was Susan Murray. She’s a Vermont lawyer who was involved in the lawsuit that led to the state’s civil unions law.
She says she and her partner have been together for more than 25 years.
(Murray) "But we still can’t file joint federal tax returns and that means we have to pay more in taxes."
(Host) She says they’re also taxed extra on their health insurance and can’t depend on each other’s Social Security.
Senator Leahy says those are issues that would be addressed by repealing DOMA. No vote on the bill has been scheduled, yet.