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Marriage amendment gives way to more support for DOMA repeal

The federal Respect for Marriage Act has reached a record level of support, the latest coming from a North Carolina lawmaker who seems to object to a fact-tracked state level effort to place a ban on civil marriage for gays and lesbians in the state’s constitution.

U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat, has reservations about a GOP plan in his state that initiate a constitutional decree against such marriages. Speaking with The Advocate, Miller noted that it is “entirely about putting on the ballot a very divisive issues for political purposes … and to try to lock in the attitudes of one generation.” He added that the consequences of such a measure, if approved by voters in a May 2012 primary election, would extend beyond the main question of marriage.

Miller has joined 122 other U.S. House members as co-sponsors of legislation that would effectively repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and end practices in states that many have begun to view as discriminatory against gay and lesbians such as refusals by the state to allow gay-friendly companies to provide health insurance benefits to partners. Similar legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by California’s Dianne Feinstein has garnered 29 co-sponsors.

North Carolina already has a statute that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but such language is not part of the state’s constitution. Lawmakers who pushed the amendment to allow a popular vote on placement in the constitution said it would keep “an activist judge from changing the marriage law without voter approval.”

The deal was struck between the two North Carolina legislative chambers over a period of two days — House members voting Monday, 75 to 42, and Senate members following suit on Tuesday, 30 to 16.

Miller’s support of the anti-DOMA federal legislation marks the second time a lawmaker from his state has agreed to co-sponsor the bill. U.S. Rep. David Price, also a Democrat, signed on to the measure in March, at the time of its introduction.

Another newcomer to sponsorship of the bill is U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat. His state is also considering a constitutional marriage amendment next year.

“Getting married to my wife Gwen and building our life together was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Walz said. “I simply cannot imagine why we would want to ban our fellow Americans from that commitment. Martin Luther King Jr. once said ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I believe that arc is getting shorter and I look forward to a day in my lifetime when Americans are not discriminated on based on who they love.”

The repeal push, which is not expected to be successful in this Congress, would allow couples legally married in states like Iowa to have access to federal benefits such as Social Security, jointly filed tax returns and immigration requirements equal to those of heterosexual binational couples.

Iowa co-sponsors to the Respect for Marriage Act are U.S. Reps. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack, and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, all Democrats.

A national telephone poll conducted by The Associated Press and the National Constitution Center found that a narrow majority of Americans, 53 percent, believe the government should give legal recognition to the civil marriages of gays and lesbians.

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