Back in October 2009, we reported on the status of President Barack Obama's promise to support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, says that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and that the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage. At the time, we rated the promise Stalled, since although legislation had been introduced in Congress to repeal the law, the White House had not voiced support for the bill.
Since then, several key developments have taken place:
• Obama called for the repeal of DOMA in his remarks at the Human Rights Campaign Dinner on Oct. 11, 2009. He again stressed that the law must be repealed in a Presidential Proclamation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month issued on May 28, 2010.
• In April 2010, Obama issued a memorandum directing the Department of Health and Human Services to create a rule mandating that all hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding must grant visitation privileges to gay and lesbian partners of those who are in the hospital. "In the absence of gay people being able to legally marry in most jurisdictions, this is a step to rectify a gross inequity" said David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.
• In June 2010, the White House released a memorandum requiring executive agencies to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees. The benefits include family assistance services, hardship transfers, as well as relocation expenses. Obama noted that these benefits are in addition to the benefits that the Office of Personnel Management and the State Department had already extended to same-sex partners in 2009.
The president has repeatedly called for DOMA's repeal, and he has begun extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. These developments move the promise from Stalled to In the Works.
We briefly considered the argument that candidate Obama only promised to "support" the repeal of DOMA -- something he has done -- and should thereby get a Promise Kept. After re-reading the letter to the LGBT community from which we got the promise, however, we decided against it. The wording of the letter conveys a tone of assurance that Obama will do everything in his power to repeal DOMA. Holding him to this standard, there's still a lot left to do.
First, he'll need some action from Congress, which has yet to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would repeal DOMA. The bill has over 100 co-sponsors, but it's been lagging in committee since October 2009. If Obama is to fulfill his pledge of extending all benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, Congress also needs to pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009. Neither the Senate nor the House has yet to vote on the bill.
Another strike against Obama: The Department of Justice is embroiled in a legal battle with Massachusetts, which filed a suit against the federal government over DOMA's constitutionality in July 2009. A DOJ spokesman has said that the president supports a legislative repeal of DOMA, but it is a long-held practice for the administration to defend federal laws that have not been deemed unconstitutional.
To recap: The president is making some headway on his promise. He has extended federal benefits to the extent permitted by law, has repeatedly called for DOMA's repeal, and has directed the majority of U.S. hospitals to allow gay and lesbian individuals to visit their partners. On the other hand, Congress has yet to pass either of the bills that Obama needs in order to repeal DOMA and to extend the rest of the federal benefits. His Department of Justice is also fighting Massachusetts to uphold DOMA. We'll keep our eyes open for new developments, but for now, we're moving this promise from Stalled to In the Works.