Monday, November 15, 2010

Bob Barr, the Architect of the Defense of Marriage Act, Again Calls for its Repeal

by Michael Jones for

When Bob Barr was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he became famous for quite a few things. Conservative as they come, Barr was an adamant supporter of impeaching President Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. He also once tried to get the Pentagon to ban Wicca in the military, and made controversial statements about how he couldn't take people with "cult hairstyles" seriously in meetings.

But despite these more bombastic and colorful moments of his Congressional career, Barr was also critically involved with major pieces of legislation. One of his biggest "accomplishments," much to the dismay of the LGBT community, was authoring a piece of legislation known as the Defense of Marriage Act, known by most as DOMA. Barr wrote DOMA in 1996, fearing that state courts might make moves to legalize same-sex marriage, and he didn't want other states or the federal government to have to recognize those laws.

As we all know, DOMA passed with flying colors. And 14 years later, it's still on the books, preventing same-sex couples from hundreds of benefits that heterosexual-married couples take for granted. The fact that gay couples can't sponsor their binational partner for legal immigration status? It's because of DOMA. The fact that gay couples can't inherit social security benefits or share health insurance if one of them works for the federal government? It's because of DOMA. The fact that a legally-married gay couple in Massachusetts can travel to Florida (or any of the other 40+ states that do not recognize marriage equality) and be treated like a second class citizen? Yup, that's DOMA's fault, too.

All of this should be enough to get a picture of Bob Barr's mug placed on every gay person's dartboard around the country. Except now, Barr admits that he was wrong to write DOMA, and is urging Congress to repeal the Act, which he says failed miserably and actually ends up violating core parts of the Constitution.

Huh. Anyone know that song, "I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now When I Was Younger?" If only Bob Barr had been privy to this song in 1996.

As Pam's House Blend notes in some awesome coverage of a November 12 symposium entitled "Legal, Secular, and Religious Perspectives on Marriage Equality/Marriage Protection/Same-Sex Marriage" at St. John's University School of Law in New York City, Barr once again called DOMA flawed legislation.

"Here we had a piece of federal legislation that said for federal law purposes only...this is what marriage means, reflecting the vast majority of Members of Congress representing the vast majority of people in the country at the time in 1996. A lawful union of one man and one woman. Yet what happened is rather than simply provide a shield for purposes of distributing federal moneys pursuant to that definition, the Defense of Marriage Act over the intervening years has been used as a club to force states not to adopt any definition of marriage other than the one that is supposed to apply just for federal law purposes," Barr said.

DOMA as a brutal club. Sounds like an apt analogy.

Barr continued by saying that he thinks LGBT Americans ought to have the legal right to marry. As Tony Varona reported for Pam's House Blend, Barr said that marriage equality was a "fundamental freedom."

"Speaking in favor of the right of same-sex couples to marry, Barr said that marriage equality 'is an issue of individual liberty,'" Varona reports. "He observed that 'back in the 1850s' marriage 'was considered for what it truly is -- a personal relationship, a contract between two individuals.' It was, according to Barr, only 'after the regulatory state began to take hold that government realized that [the regulation of marriage] was another way to control people.'"

So what's it say when the author of a particular piece of legislation says that it should be thrown out with the garbage? Seems like it says that it's time for DOMA to go.

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