DOMA’s author calls for law’s repeal in an op-ed

Bob Barr, the former Georgian lawmaker who crafted the Defense of Marriage Act, penned an op-ed piece this week that urges President-elect Obama and legislators to repeal the law.

In a Jan. 5 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, Barr, the Libertarian presidential nominee in the recent election, said DOMA was not working as he had intended and that it should be repealed. Barr took the position that DOMA limits states’ rights but did not make any reference to LGBT rights.

Barr, who authored the 1996 law that bans same-sex marriage or other unions on a federal level, said he intended DOMA to “thwart the then-nascent move in a few state courts and legislatures to afford partial or full recognition to same-sex couples.”

Barr asserted that he was motivated to pursue DOMA because a Hawaii court at the time was considering legalizing same-sex marriage; he said he crafted DOMA as a way to prevent marriage-equality supporters from arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause should force the legalization of same-sex marriage in one state to apply to all states.

However, Barr said he’s “wrestled with this issue for the last several years and come to the conclusion that DOMA is not working out as planned.”

He said he now believes that DOMA “reflects one-way federalism” in that it only protects states that don’t wish to recognize same-sex unions.

“Even more so now than in 1996, I believe we need to reduce federal power over the lives of the citizenry and over the prerogatives of the states,” he wrote. “It truly is time to get the federal government out of the marriage business. In law and policy, such decisions should be left to the people themselves.”

He also argued that “the heterosexual definition of marriage for purposes of federal laws — including immigration, Social Security survivor rights and veterans’ benefits — has become a de facto club used to limit, if not thwart, the ability of a state to choose to recognize same-sex unions.”

Barr said he now agrees with Obama that DOMA “has to go,” although Obama has asserted that the law should be abolished because it is discriminatory.

“If one truly believes in federalism and the primacy of state government over the federal, DOMA is simply incompatible with those notions,” Barr wrote.

Molly McKay, media director at Marriage Equality U.S.A., said that even though Barr did not touch on DOMA’s discriminatory nature, his support can still be very valuable in the fight to repeal the law.

“I was very encouraged to read that not even the author of DOMA is still in favor of it,” McKay said. “There are so many different reasons why DOMA is terrible law, and some of the issues that Bob Barr raised relate to the fact that marriage has always been seen as a state issue and it’s not something that the federal government should get involved with. I think that this will provide additional momentum to challenge and undo DOMA.”

McKay noted that Barr’s opposition to DOMA reflects what she sees as a changing societal trend in favor of same-sex marriage.

“As marriage-equality advocates, it’s really positive to see this sea change coming around. Here in California, we see the trend moving toward marriage equality as the law of the land. It’s definitely a good sign that even former opponents are coming around. America doesn’t always get it right the first time, but over time they eventually do and extend civil-rights appropriately to all people. This is the time, and we are the generation to see this civil-rights issue come to reality.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].