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The Politics of Division and Hatred
Senator Barbara Boxer, (D) California
from the Congressional Record, September 9, 1996


Now there is the question of the other bill that will come before us, known as DoMA , the Defense of Marriage Act. When I heard that there was going to be a bill before us called the Defense of Marriage Act, I thought it was going to be about our families and how they cope with the problems and stresses that most married people face. There are financial insecurities with jobs that are ever changing, pension insecurities with corporate raids on pensions and inadequate protections in the law, there is pressure to save enough to afford a home, there is child abuse going on in families, there is alcohol and drug abuse, there is spousal abuse, there are pressures from lack of health care. We have tried to fix some of those in this Congress. There are pressures, worrying, “Will Grandma and Grandpa be all right? Will they make it? Will their Medicare be cut? Can we function as an extended family in this fast moving world?” These are some of the pressures.

I thought it was about, perhaps, flexible working schedules so there could be more time off for school and doctor appointments. I thought it maybe addressed the issue of child care. It is called the Defense of Marriage Act. I thought we were going to deal with those issues, the stresses on marriage. So I was looking forward to seeing this legislation.

Then, when I see it, it turns out to be something completely different. It turns out to be about the U.S. Congress getting into the issue of marriage. No State legislature is even suggesting that it recognize gay marriage, not one State in this Union. Not one person in the Senate or the House has introduced legislation to recognize gay marriage — not one. There is no bill pending before us to legalize gay marriage and provide benefits to these couples. Not one group has asked any of us, to my knowledge, to carry such legislation.

We are told by constitutional scholars that even if one State does recognize gay marriage, other States have the option not to recognize it. University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, one of the Nation’s most distinguished legal scholars, author of numerous texts and articles on constitutional law, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that States are not required to recognize other States’ marriages. So why this legislation now? With all the things we could be doing that would make a real difference in people’s lives, with all the things we could be doing that would really matter to families, we are taking up this so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which, as I have stated, has nothing to do, in my view, with helping married couples cope with the stress on their marriages.

Does the author of the bill in the House, whom the press says has been married three times, truly believe that the Defense of Marriage Act would have made him a better husband or his wives better wives? I seriously doubt that. I doubt that.

Marriages do run into trouble; one in two ends in divorce and that is tragic. It is tragic for the people involved and it is tragic for the children. There are things we should all do in our relationships and as a community and in our religious institutions to make marriage stronger. But passing this act does nothing to affirm marriage at all.

Many of us in this Chamber, myself included, have been married for many years to the same person, and I truly believe that those of us who are honest about it would never list the possibility of gay marriage looming on the horizon as a reason there may be stress in our marriage. I believe, if we were honest, we would never cite that as a reason for a problem of stress in our marriage. In any event, gay marriage is not looming anywhere. As I said, not one State is considering it, not one State legislature. No one has asked to do it. There is no bill pending.

Yes, the Hawaii courts are looking at the issue, but that final resolution is years away. There is plenty of time for us to have this debate. But this Congress cannot wait to have this debate. The Hawaii case is only now about to go to trial. Legal experts are convinced that given the stakes, the losing side will surely appeal the case all the way to the State supreme court. We are talking about a long time here.

So why are we doing this bill now? No one is asking for it, no one is proposing any of it, no one State is considering recognizing gay marriage.

I have to give my opinion. It is all about the calendar, that is what I think. It is an election-year ploy to get Senate and House Members to cast a tough vote. We know it is a tough vote.

But I think, when we do this, we do lose something. I think we lose our soul. That is what you lose when you scapegoat a group of people, a whole group of people who have never even asked us to legalize gay marriage. Scapegoating is ugly. History has seen it too many times. You know that and I know that. Groups of people who are different are identified. It becomes “we” versus “them.” Their identity as individuals is lost and they become faceless. Special rules are written for them. They are singled out as a group. Read the history books, my colleagues. You will find it there. We are all Americans in this country, regardless of our differences. We are Americans first. We are God’s children, all of us, regardless of our differences. Why do we need to craft a piece of legislation designed to hurt our fellow Americans when there is absolutely no need to do it?

President Clinton, who comes to a different conclusion on this bill than I do, writes in his book “Between Hope and History”:

“We must make a choice … shall we live by our fears and define ourselves by what we are against, or shall we live by our hopes and define ourselves by what we are working for, by our vision of a better future … that is a choice we must make every day.”

This DoMA bill, in my opinion, is a statement of what we are against. It does nothing, it does not do one thing, to make Americans’ lives better. It is a classic example of the politics of division, of a so-called wedge issue to divide us one from another without any reason to do so. I think even if it means you pick up a seat or two in Congress, the better angels of our nature should stop this politics of division and hatred. The Defense of Marriage Act is a preemptive strike against a gay marriage proposal that does not even exist. It is a little bit like bombing a country because you think they are a threat when in reality they want nothing more than to live in peace. We would never do that as a nation, and we should not do this. It hurts people for no reason.

I thank those of my colleagues, in advance, who will vote against this scapegoating measure. There will only be a few of us. It will be a brave vote. I say that because I know what the polls show. But what is leadership about, anyway? It is about the really tough votes.

When I went into politics 20 years ago, I told my constituents then and I tell them now I would not always take the popular side of an issue if I felt it was meanspirited. For me to do that would be an insult to them and an insult to me. It would diminish all of us.

To me, this vote is not about how I feel about gay marriage. I have always supported the idea of communities deciding these issues without the long arm of the Federal Government.

Many communities recognize domestic partnerships for those who choose to make a long-term commitment. Many communities in California do this, and, Mr. President, it seems to be working. I have not had one phone call or one letter indicating Congress should override these community decisions. Clearly, this is an issue that should be decided in our communities, not in the Senate.

So to me, this vote is not about how Senators feel about marriage, and it certainly is not about defending marriage. To me, it is about scapegoating. It is about dividing us. It is ugly politics. It is a diversion from what we should be doing. For example, we could be using this time to pass President Clinton’s college tax breaks to ease the stress on our married couples today. Now that would be defending marriage.

By my no vote on this legislation tomorrow, I am disassociating myself from the politics of negativity and division, from the politics of scapegoating, and I will cast my vote in that spirit.


Senator Barbara Boxer
senator@boxer.senate.gov

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