News Law and Policy

Senate Committee Holds Hearings on Repealing Defense of Marriage Act

Martha Kempner

The Defense of Marriage Act denies a host federal benefits to those gay and lesbian couples who have legally married in DC and the six states that recognize same-sex marriage. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on a repeal of that discriminatory law.

This morning my five-year-old daughter asked me if girls could marry girls and boys could marry boys. My standard response to this question has always been “of course, people can marry whomever they want.” Today, I considered the more complicated and truthful answer which is that they should be able to marry whomever they want but, unfortunately, that’s only true in some states. We’ve discussed this many times before so I have no idea what prompted the question today and she has no idea how timely it really was.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act.  Introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the new legislation would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and allow those same-sex couples who have wed in the District of Columbia or any of the six states where such marriage is legal to enjoy benefits under family leave laws, Social Security, and federal tax codes.

DOMA, which was passed in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, ensured that no state had to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex that had been performed in any other state or jurisdiction, and defined marriage, for federal purposes, as a union between one man and one woman. Prior to DOMA the federal government had traditionally recognized any state’s valid marriages.

At the hearing, a number of gay and lesbian individuals testified about how being denied the federal benefits of marriage because of DOMA had impacted their lives.  One 77-year-old man explained how the death of his partner of 58-years (whom he married during the brief window in which California legalized same-sex marriage) has been made far more difficult because he is not able to collect his partner’s social security benefits and is now forced to sell their home which he cannot afford. Similarly, a 64-year old man described how his household income went down by 80 percent after the death the partner of 30-years, whom he had legally married in Vermont, because he could not collect his partner’s federal pension checks.  

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

A number of lawmakers testified that DOMA was unfairly discriminatory. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said:

“I’m concerned that DOMA has served to create a tier of second-class families in states like Vermont. This runs counter to the values upon which America is founded, to the proud tradition we have in this country of moving toward a more inclusive society.”

Representative John Lewis (D-GA) compared DOMA to racial segregation:

“As a child, I tasted the bitter fruits of racism and discrimination, and I did not like it. And in 1996, when Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, the taste of that old bitter fruit filled my mouth once again. The Defense of Marriage Act is a stain on our democracy.”

Not all lawmakers, however, felt the same the way as some argued about the importance of the existing law. Representative Steve King (R-IA) argued that:

“Traditional marriage is a sacred institution and serves as the cornerstone of our society. We cannot afford to devalue it with legislation like S. 598 [the Respect for Marriage Act], and we must oppose any effort that would diminish the definition of marriage.” 

He went on to invoke a classic slippery slope argument:  “The other side argues that you can’t choose who you love and that a union between two men or two women is equal to that of one man and one woman.  But these are the same arguments that could be used to promote marriage between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, or even polygamist relationships.”

Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue also testified. Tom Minnery of the conservative group Focus on the Family, argued in favor of DOMA citing a study that he said suggests that children do better in families headed by a married man and woman. Senator Al Franken (D-MN), however, took him to task for misreading that study which, in actuality, says that children do better in nuclear families defined as “one or more children living with two parents who are married to each other, and who are each biological or adoptive parents of all the children in the family.”  Franken pointed out that married gay and lesbian parents were counted in this definition and went on to say to Minnery: “…I frankly don’t know how we can trust the rest of your testimony, if you are reading studies this way.”

Without Republican support it is unlikely that the Respect for Marriage Act will pass though President Obama recently announced his support for the legislation which would “take DOMA off the books once and for all.”  Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, explained: “This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples.” Feinstein, who was one of only 14 Senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, for one is not giving up: “This must change. However long it takes, we will achieve it.”

And that is why I did not give Charlie the more complicated answer to her question this morning. Because I am confident that by the time she is anywhere near marrying age, she will have the right to choose whomever she would like to be her legally recognized partner.  Then we can look back at this law as we do laws that preventing Whites and Blacks from marrying and see them for what they (hopefully) are—discriminatory, ridiculous, and gone for good.

This morning my five-year-old daughter asked me if girls could marry girls and boys could marry boys. My standard response to this question has always been “of course, people can marry whomever they want.”  Today, I considered the more complicated and truthful answer which is that they should be able to marry whomever they want but, unfortunately, that’s only true in some states. We’ve discussed this many times before so I have no idea what prompted the question today and she has no idea how timely it really was.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act.  Introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the new legislation would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and allow those same-sex couples who have wed in the District of Columbia or any of the six states where such marriage is legal to enjoy benefits under family leave laws, Social Security, and federal tax codes.

DOMA, which was passed in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, ensured that no state had to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex that had been performed in any other state or jurisdiction, and defined marriage, for federal purposes, as a union between one man and one woman. Prior to DOMA the federal government had traditionally recognized any state’s valid marriages.

At the hearing, a number of gay and lesbian individuals testified about how being denied the federal benefits of marriage because of DOMA had impacted their lives.  One 77-year-old man explained how the death of his partner of 58-years (whom he legally married during the brief window in which California legalized same-sex marriage) has been made far more difficult because he is not able to collect his partner’s social security benefits and is now forced to sell their home which he cannot afford.  Similarly, a 64-year old man described how his household income went down by 80 percent after the death the partner of 30-years, whom he had legally married in Vermont, because he could not collect his partner’s federal pension checks.  

A number of lawmakers testified that DOMA was unfairly discriminatory. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, “I’m concerned that DOMA has served to create a tier of second-class families in states like Vermont. This runs counter to the values upon which America is founded, to the proud tradition we have in this country of moving toward a more inclusive society.”  Representative John Lewis (D-GA) compared DOMA to racial segregation: “As a child, I tasted the bitter fruits of racism and discrimination, and I did not like it. And in 1996, when Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, the taste of that old bitter fruit filled my mouth once again. The Defense of Marriage Act is a stain on our democracy.”

Not all lawmakers, however, felt the same the way as some argued about the importance of the existing law.  Representative Steve King (R-IA) argued that: “Traditional marriage is a sacred institution and serves as the cornerstone of our society. We cannot afford to devalue it with legislation like S. 598 [the Respect for Marriage Act], and we must oppose any effort that would diminish the definition of marriage.”  He went on to invoke a classic slippery slope argument:  “The other side argues that you can’t choose who you love and that a union between two men or two women is equal to that of one man and one woman.  But these are the same arguments that could be used to promote marriage between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, or even polygamist relationships.”

Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue also testified.  Tom Minnery of the conservative group Focus on the Family, argued in favor of DOMA citing a study that he said suggests that children do better in families headed by a married man and woman. Senator Al Franken (D-MN), however, took him to task for misreading that study which, in actuality, says that children do better in nuclear families which it defines as “one or more children living with two parents who are married to each other, and who are each biological or adoptive parents of all the children in the family.”  Franken pointed out that married gay and lesbian parents were counted in this definition and went on to say to Minnery: “…I frankly don’t know how we can trust the rest of your testimony, if you are reading studies this way.”

Without Republican support it is unlikely that the Respect for Marriage Act will pass though President Obama recently announced his support for the legislation which would “take DOMA off the books once and for all.”  Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, explained: “This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples.” Feinstein, who was one of only 14 Senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, for one is not giving up: “This must change. However long it takes, we will achieve it.”

And that is why I did not give Charlie the more complicated answer to her question this morning. Because I am confident that by the time she is anywhere near marrying age, she will have the right to choose whomever she would like to be her legally recognized partner.  Then we can look back at this law as we do laws that preventing Whites and Blacks from marrying and see them for what they (hopefully) are—discriminatory, ridiculous, and gone for good.

 

 

 

News Sexual Health

Average Penis Is Less Than Six Inches Long, Study Finds

Martha Kempner

Don't believe the hype. A new study finds the average penis is only 5.6 inches when erect.

A new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has found that most men are not endowed like Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights. In fact, most men have a penis that measures less than six inches long when erect.

The study, led by Indiana University researcher Debby Herbenick, surveyed 1,661 men, each of whom was asked to measure both the length and girth of his penis when erect. Men were also asked to tell the researchers how they attained the erection.

The largest penis in the survey measured in at 10.2 inches, while the smallest was 1.6 inches. Most men fell firmly in between, with the average penis measuring 5.6 inches in length and 4.8 inches in girth. The researchers found that characteristics such as race or sexual orientation were not good predictors of penis size.

However, men who reported attaining their erection through oral sex were on average larger than men who were alone when they became erect. Herbenick told LiveScience, “We don’t know if that means that when men have oral sex that it’s more arousing and they get a bigger erection, or means that men who have bigger penises could be getting more oral sex in the first place.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The data was collected as part of an earlier study comparing men’s use of a standard-sized condoms to the use of condoms specifically sized to fit their erect penis. Herbenick explained the results of that study to Rewire, saying, “We found that both standard and fitted condoms were comfortable for most men, and that some men on either end of the size continuum preferred condoms fitted to the size of their erect penis. Currently, ‘fitted’ condoms are no longer on the U.S. market. However, there’s a wider-than-ever range of condoms that are safe, effective, and pleasurable and that are available for men and their partners to choose from.”

News Sexual Health

Teen Birth Rate Hits Lowest Point Since 1946

Martha Kempner

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the latest teen birth rates which found that fewer babies were born to teen mothers in 2010 than in any year since 1946. 

The positive news just keeps coming. In February we reported on the latest teen pregnancy rates which were the lowest in nearly 40 years and showed a 42 percent decrease from their peak in 1990. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the latest teen birth rates which found that fewer babies were born to teen mothers in 2010 than in any year since 1946. In 2010 there were 367,752 babies born to teens compared to 409,802 in 2009.

The 2010 birth rates was 34.3 births per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19 which represents a nine percent drop from just the year before and a 44 percent drop since 1991 when birth rates were at their highest (61.8 per 1,000 young women). The CDC’s report calculated that if that high rate had continued, there would have been about 3.4 million additional births to teenagers between 1992 and 2010.

The teen birth rate dropped across all racial and ethnic groups but still varies widely by race; Hispanics have the highest teenage birth rates at 55.7 births per 1,000 teens in the age group, followed by black teens at 51.5 per 1,000. Asian teens have the lowest teenage birth rate with 10.9 per 1,000.

In addition, teen birth rates fell since 2007 in all states except Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia.  Still, birth rates vary widely among different groups of states; Mississippi has the highest teen birth rate at 55 per 1,000 girls 15 to 19 years of age, New Mexico’s rate is 53, and Arkansas is 52.5.  New Hampshire has the lowest birth rate at about 16 per 1,000 women with Massachusetts and Vermont following right behind.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Though this study does not explain why the teen birth rate has dropped so significantly, previous research suggests that a combination of less teen sexual activity, more contraceptive use, and use of more effective contraceptive methods is responsible for this positive trend.

Of course, the United States still has a long way to go if we want to catch up with other industrialized nations which have far lower teen birth rates. Lithuania, for example, has a rate of 16 births per 1,000 young women 15 to 19 and Canada has only 14 births per 1,000.