Supreme Court should overturn 'hateful' Defense of Marriage Act, says Sean Patrick Maloney

Democratic congressional candidate Sean Patrick Maloney speaks to Democratic congressional candidate Sean Patrick Maloney speaks to a crowd of supporters after his primary victory at Teamsters Local 445 in Rock Tavern. (June 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney takes the Supreme Court's upcoming review of the Defense of Marriage Act personally.

The Cold Spring Democrat -- the first openly gay politician to represent New York in Congress -- has joined with other Hudson Valley politicians to urge that the court overturn the Bill Clinton-era federal law, which he calls "hateful."

"This issue is personal," Maloney said in a public statement Monday. "I want to be able to sit down with my partner, Randy, and our three beautiful children, and tell them that the Supreme Court has ruled that we deserve the same rights as every American family."

Maloney and his partner, Randy Florke, have adopted three chilren. They are not married.

The federal law, known by the shorthand DOMA, defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It prevents legally married gay Americans from collecting a range of federal benefits that generally are available to married people. The court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of the law -- and that of California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages -- on Tuesday and Wednesday. A decision, expected in early summer, could redefine marriage throughout the U.S.

Equally outspoken is Ossining Mayor Bill Hanauer -- who married his partner in a public ceremony before declaring his candidacy for re-election last year. Hanauer is in Washington this week and plans to visit the Supreme Court, he said Monday.

"This is a very exciting time, when civil rights takes another leap forward, or not," Hanauer said. "Either way, the decision will be historic because the court will be setting the legal perimeters for the next generation."

Speaking at a legislative committee meeting two weeks ago, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) appealed directly to Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, though she previously supported it.

"In the time that has passed since 1996, my views, along with President Clinton's and President [Barack] Obama's, many of my colleagues', the country's and the face and makeup of our families, have all changed for what I think is the better," she said. "I cannot in good conscience tell my constituents that their country does not value their bond, their commitment to their family."

Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, Iowa and New Hampshire. It is not recognized by the federal government.

In May, Obama said he endorsed it. His statement was hailed by Democrats, gay rights groups and others as a milestone for civil rights in the United States. Obama said that New York's passage of a gay marriage law had helped shape his opinion.

STILL A DIVISIVE ISSUE

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Still, the issue remains divisive, and controversial enough to make people on the street hesitant to give their full names when commenting.

"Marriage is not supposed to be just about a man and a woman," said Bob, a 52-year-old retired bookkeeper from Nyack, who is gay. "As long as two people love each other, care for each other, that's a marriage. Love is love, no matter what."

Elsa, a 52-year-old nurse from Chestnut Ridge, said she doesn't think same-sex couples should be allowed to wed.

"God doesn't allow same-sex marriages, so it should not be allowed, period," she said.

Matt Richman, 35, an interior designer, said the issue is not about gay or lesbian rights but civil rights.

"I think all people should be able to get married no matter what religion, race, sex or creed," he said.

The high court is weighing California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage simultaneously.

The consequences of the decision on the California case be far-reaching:

• If the court upholds California's ban, the decision would reinforce the status quo in 41 states that prohibit same-sex marriages.

• If the court strikes down California's ban, the outcome would in effect invalidate constitutional provisions or statutes against gay marriage and establish the right of gay couples to marry across the U.S.

• The nine Supreme Court justices could choose to dispose of the case on the narrow ground that both the attorney general of the U.S. and the attorney general of California declined to defend the laws at issue, and that the conservative interest groups that are defending the laws have no standing to do so. Such a ruling would have limited application to other cases.

• Finally, the justices could choose a middle ground, focusing not on the issue of marriage itself but rather on denying benefits to same-sex couples. Nine states that do not allow same-sex marriage grant "equal benefits" to couples in civil unions. If the court decides that the crux of the issue is benefits -- not the institution of marriage itself -- the implications of the ruling again would be limited.

As for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a ruling upholding it would not affect state laws regarding marriage, but it would keep in place federal statutes and rules that prevent legally married gay Americans from receiving a range of benefits that are otherwise available to married people. Such benefits include breaks on estate taxes, health insurance for spouses of federal workers and Social Security survivor benefits.

Clinton, who as president signed the federal law in 1996, recently said it should be overturned. He said he signed it to avoid legislation that would have been even worse for gays but now realizes the law discriminates against gays and is incompatible with the Constitution.

With Elizabeth Daza and The Associated Press

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