A Day For Celebration, With An Asterisk

by Bob Braun on June 27 2013

Bob Braun, a former longtime columnist for The Star-Ledger, is following Rush Holt’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. He will be sharing his thoughts and his stories from the campaign trail from time to time.

A day for celebrations—of course. It always is when the cause of human rights is advanced, even a little. But there has to be an asterisk attached to all the expressions of happiness we heard when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down.

Because it has no impact here in New Jersey.

Not here and not in 37 other states that don’t allow same-sex couples to have the same and civil rights as they enjoy in the 12 states that embrace marriage equality.

So, while we’re celebrating the US Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA, let’s also reflect that a lot more work needs to be done in state capitals and in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th) took just the right measure of things. A long-time supporter of LGBT rights, Rush issued a statement shortly after the decision in which he traced the efforts by progressive lawmakers like him to repeal DOMA.

“Congress should have repealed DOMA long ago, and its failure to do so is a shameful chapter in American history,” he said. “Yet the Supreme Court’s decision is more powerful and more definitive than any action Congress could have taken.  DOMA is dead and will never rise again.’’

Why shameful? Because it was obvious even to Justice Anthony Kennedy—who will never be accused of harboring progressive political views—that DOMA was aimed, in effect, at punishing men and women for who they were, the very essence of a denial of human rights.

Kennedy wrote, “The principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage.’’ He added DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

But a key sentence came at the end of his opinion:  “This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.’’

The assault on the dignity of individuals and the humiliation of their children continue unabated in states like New Jersey—a state, where after all, the Legislature voted to enact same sex marriage but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. That is unlikely to change soon.  Christie called Kennedy’s opinion a “bad decision.”

This is how Rush described the ruling: “This is an important step in America's work to extend civil rights to all of our citizens,” Rush said. “But the Court stopped short of ensuring that every state recognizes the right of every American citizen to marry.”

The court stopped short, far too short, of ensuring men and women have the dignity to live their lives the way they choose without having their government seeking to demean and humiliate them.

Much of the struggle to ensure that dignity will take place in the US Senate.  Rush is seeking the nomination to replace the late US Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

“The fight against marriage discrimination continues, and in the Senate, I will lead it,’’ he said.

He has the record to prove he is best-equipped to lead that fight.  Rush helped end “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”  He was the main original co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, H.R. 3567, which would have repealed DOMA long ago and ensure respect for State regulation of marriage. 

Rush is a co-sponsor and strong supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that provides employment protections for sexual orientation as well as gender identity and an original co-sponsor of Uniting American Families Act that would allow a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to sponsor their same-sex partner for immigration to the U.S.

When Sen. Lautenberg died, New Jersey not only lost a strong leader, the senate lost one of its most progressive voices. Rush’s record is the most progressive of any member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation.  Holt has been an outspoken advocate for ending discrimination against LGBT citizens.

Together with  Sen. Lautenberg, he wrote legislation to require colleges to have in place a strong anti-harassment policy to protect LGBT students. In 2011, Holt also successfully urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to end deportation actions against the foreign-born, same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens.

And, of course, senators confirm the nominations of judges and justices. A more progressive court  likely would have taken the opportunity yesterday  to throw out all laws limiting the rights of men and women to marry.  That may be the most important reason the Senate needs another progressive voice like that of Rush Holt. 

“I will vote to confirm judges and justices who seek to extend civil rights and civil liberties to all Americans,” Rush said.