Saturday, June 30, 2007

Debate Over Same-Sex Benefits Heats Up

Debate Over Same-Sex Benefits Heats Up
2008 presidential contenders at odds over federal benefits for same-sex partners
June 29, 2007 —

A 1996 law signed by former President Bill Clinton blocks same-sex couples married under the laws of the state in which they live from receiving federal spousal benefits.

While running for the Senate in 2000, Hillary Clinton said she supported that law. But more recently, she reversed course and promised a gay rights group that she would undo part of that law as president.

A leading Republican presidential candidate who used to be the governor of the only state in the country which currently recognizes same-sex marriage -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- will take issue with Clinton's position when he speaks Saturday at a presidential candidates' forum being co-sponsored by the Iowa Christian Alliance.

"Governor Romney would uphold current law that does not make same-sex couples eligible for federal spousal benefits," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told ABC News. Romney also supports a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Romney's position is at odds with Clinton.

Clinton Supports Same-Sex Benefits
The former first lady recently told the Human Rights Campaign that she supports repealing the part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for any purpose, even if it was recognized by one of the states.

"I support repealing the provision of DOMA that may prohibit the federal government from providing benefits to people in states that recognize same sex marriage," wrote Clinton in her Human Rights Campaign questionnaire. "I strongly support ensuring people in stable, long-term same sex relationships have full equality of benefits, rights, and responsibility."

Federal benefits currently blocked from same-sex couples in state-recognized marriages include filing joint tax returns, receiving Social Security survivorship benefits, and utilizing the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Clinton also promised the Human Rights Campaign that she would "examine the feasibility" of extending federal benefits to gay couples in relationships that "meet certain standards" but that do not necessarily enjoy state recognition.

"When she is president," Clinton spokesman Phil Singer told ABC News, "she will work with the LGBT community to figure out how best to achieve equality benefits."

"I support full equality of benefits, rights, and responsibilities for individuals in loving, stable, same sex relationships," wrote Clinton in her questionnaire, "and in principle, I would like to see federal benefits extended to same sex couples that meet certain standards."

Democrats at Odds With Portions of 'Defense of Marriage Act'
Clinton is not the only Democratic presidential candidate at odds with a law signed by the last Democrat to occupy the White House.

While running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama told a gay newspaper in Chicago that DOMA was "abhorrent," adding that those members of Congress who voted for its passage were "only interested in perpetuating division and affirming a wedge issue."

Another leading Democratic presidential candidate -- former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards -- also told the Human Rights Campaign that he wants DOMA altered.

"I support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act provision that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex relationships," wrote Edwards in his 2008 Human Rights Campaign questionnaire.

Clinton and her leading rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination continue to support the portion of DOMA which exempts one state from having to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state.

"Senator Clinton believes that each state should make its own decisions regarding marriage but once states decide to legally recognize a same-sex relationship, those relationships should be treated equally," said Singer.

Republicans to Discuss Gay Marriage at Saturday Forum
Romney is not the only Republican presidential candidate who will offer his views on whether the federal government should end its practice of blocking federal spousal benefits from flowing to state-recognized same-sex marriages or civil unions.

Joining him at the forum will be Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., former Govs. Tommy Thompson, R-Wis., and Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., as well as Reps. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

Not participating in the Saturday forum will be the two best-known Republicans in the race: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Both candidates have had uneven relationships with religious conservatives. McCain has voted against a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as a member of the Senate and Giuliani approved domestic partnerships for gay couples in New York.

Each candidate participating in Saturday's forum will have 20-minutes to address six questions which were presented to them in advance. One of those questions covers DOMA. The others touch on tax increases, spending control, stem-cell research, border security, and a progressive retail sales tax.

If the forum's co-sponsors -- the Iowa Christian Alliance and Iowans for Tax Relief -- are not satisfied with the candidates' responses, they will be granted 10 extra minutes to clarify themselves.

According to Iowa Christian Alliance president Steve Scheffler, social conservatives have been let down by President Bush on the issue of defending traditional marriage.

"Bush makes a nice little speech once a year talking about the need for a federal amendment," Scheffler told ABC News, "but he doesn't expend any political energy for it."

ABC News' A'Melody Lee contributed to this report.

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