Connecticut's Leaders in Congress have Evolved Their Views on Gay Marriage

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When the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed in 1996, all but one member of Connecticut's congressional delegation voted for the legislation that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Times have changed. Connecticut has legalized gay marriage. Today, all but one member of Connecticut's delegation supports repeal of DOMA.

"The only one who is not yet a co-sponsor [of a repeal bill] is Senator Joseph Lieberman," says Anne Stanback, who is chair of the Freedom to Marry Action Center, a national marriage equality organization.

"The longer this debate goes on, the more people become in favor of it," Stanback says. "That's why we hope Senator Lieberman, before he leaves office, will also become a co-sponsor.

"It's an issue we expect to see evolution on," Stanback adds. Perhaps the the classic Connecticut example of that philosophical evolution is U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, who voted for DOMA back in 1996.

"I changed my mind," DeLauro explained in an e-mail response for this story. "I believe that any committed couple should be able to get married. I believe that, when any group is denied full participation in the social and economic life of our nation, we compromise our own freedom and demean our values as a nation."

DeLauro, a life-long New Haven resident, says she wants same-sex couples who get married to "receive the same federal rights as any other legally married couples."

The rest of the delegation (except for Lieberman, of course) agrees. They include U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Reps. John Larson, D-1, Joe Courtney, D-2, Jim Himes, D-4, and Chris Murphy, D-5.

Lieberman, that Democrat-turned-independent, may have changed his course on lots of issues over the years, but not on gay marriage. The irony for the LGBT community is that Lieberman led the successful fight late last year to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of hypocrisy in theU.S. military.

Unfortunately for activists like Stanback, Connecticut's increasingly liberal stand on this issue is running counter to what's happened in Congress as a whole. Conservative Republicans are in control of the U.S. House, and both it and the U.S. Senate now have more lawmakers considered hostile to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community than they did before last year's elections.

According to an analysis by the Human Rights Campaign, the number of anti-LGBT lawmakers increased by 53 in the House (to a total of 225) and by five in the Senate (to 40) — all of which is making repeal of DOMA that much more difficult.

If you think that, because gay marriage is legal in Connecticut, it doesn't really matter about DOMA, consider the plight of a gay couple who were legally married in 2004 inMassachusetts.

Now living in San Francisco, Bradford Wells is a U.S. citizen who is afflicted with AIDS, and his spouse is Anthony John Makk, a citizen of Australia who is being deported by President Barack Obama's administration. Arguments that he is the primary care giver for his spouse were rejected by federal immigration agents.

A foreign-born person married to a U.S. citizen is allowed to stay in this country, unless it's a gay couple. Under DOMA, the federal government doesn't recognize gay marriage and thus denies gay partners the federal rights granted to heterosexual married couples, whether it involves immigration issues or federal pension benefits.

Makk has been ordered to leave the U.S. by Aug. 25. Oddly, Obama's administration announced earlier this year that the U.S. Justice Department would no longer defend against constitutional challenges to the definition of marriage as only being between a man and a woman.

Shawn Lang, director of public policy for the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition, calls Makk's situation a particularly hideous example of the side effects of DOMA. She says the issue of "bi-national couples" facing possible separation because of this federal law isn't limited to this one case.

"There are folks in Connecticut for whom this is an issue," Lang says. "I don't think you would come across any state where bi-national [same-sex] couples aren't being threatened with deportation."

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