A U. S. representative from Pennsylvania this week put pressure on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to take action on a bill that seeks to repeal the federal ban on same-sex marriage.
Congressman Joe Sestak (D-7th Dist.) issued a letter to Pelosi on Tuesday, urging the speaker to move toward a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill introduced earlier this month that would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits.
In his letter, Sestak details that same-sex couples who have been legally married are not eligible to file joint tax returns or receive the same Social Security, sick leave and retirement benefits as heterosexual married couples.
“Married LGBT couples are not provided equal treatment under the law,” Sestak wrote.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced the Respect for Marriage Act on Sept. 15 along with 92 cosponsors, including Sestak; that number has since grown to 94. The legislation would lift DOMA and allow couples who marry in any state where such unions are legal to receive the same federal rights and benefits of heterosexual couples, even if their residence is in a state that does not sanction same-sex marriage.
“DOMA’s repeal provides certainty to families by allowing them to plan for a future of mutual obligation and support with confidence that their access to federal responsibilities and rights will not be taken away,” Sestak said in his letter, noting the bill does not require states to recognize same-sex marriage, but rather “creates a standard federal guideline.”
Sestak wrote that his support for LGBT rights was fortified during his 31 years in the Navy, where he served alongside many gay and lesbian members.
“Having seen their dedication, their allegiance and their sacrifices, how can I, or anyone, not say that these individuals deserve equal rights when they return home? Passing the Respect for Marriage Act will restore fairness to the LGBT community and ensure equal justice under law.”
In addition to Sestak, Congressmembers from Pennsylvania Bob Brady (D-1st Dist.), Chaka Fattah (D-2nd Dist.) and Michael Doyle (D-14th Dist.) are also cosponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act.
Sestak is looking to unseat longtime incumbent U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D) in the primary.
In a statement to PGN this week, Sestak noted that, while Congress has been grappling with the country’s economic crisis and trying to spearhead healthcare reform, in the coming months it also needs to turn its attention to LGBT-rights issues.
“I strongly believe that we were correct in first stopping the cratering of our economy; then focusing on healthcare reform, which is also part of our economy,” Sestak said. “However, I believe that this fall, the Congress and president must address an issue that has to do with our ideals, particularly equality. Therefore, I sent a letter to the president recently to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and in this case to the speaker to repeal DOMA.”