Welch calls for repeal of DOMA

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says the time has come to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act – a law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Welch says defining marriage is a ‘states’ rights issue’ and that repealing the law will allow same sex couples to receive federal benefits in states that recognize gay marriage.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In 1996, Congress passed the "Defense of Marriage Act," a law that defines marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Since the passage of the law, known as DOMA, four states, including Vermont, have recognized same sex marriage.  New Hampshire will become the 5th state next year.

Congressman Welch says same sex couples in these states are placed in an unfair situation – they’re legally entitled to all state benefits but not any federal benefits. 

For instance, a same sex couple in Vermont could file a joint state tax return but would have to file individual federal returns.  Welch says federal benefits like Social Security would also be available to these same sex couples if DOMA is repealed:

(Welch) "It is a state’s rights bill and traditionally states have defined marriage and of course Vermont has acted and given a definition that extends marriage to gay and lesbian couples. And it was only when DOMA was passed that the federal government intruded on what had been historically –  literally for a couple of hundred years – the right of the state to define marriage in their jurisdiction, so the federal government was really interfering. The passage of the repeal of DOMA puts us back to where traditionally we have been in this country."

(Kinzel) Welch says repealing DOMA won’t have an impact on states that choose not to recognize same sex marriage:

(Welch) "Each state will continue to be debating this question and obviously this becomes a very significant debate in states that take it up. But states that have taken it up see that life goes on and that is certainly what has happened in Vermont."

Steve Cable is the director of Vermont Renewal – a group that opposed same sex marriage at the Statehouse last session.

Cable doesn’t want to repeal the federal law because he says it protects states that don’t recognize same sex marriage.  He’s concerned that a repeal of DOMA will force these states to provide legal benefits to out of state same sex couples.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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