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Local and nat'l politicians attend DOMA hearing
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

This article shared 3268 times since Wed Oct 12, 2011
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Politicians, activists and same-sex marriage supporters filled the seats of the City Council chambers Oct. 7 for a panel discussion on the impacts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on same-sex couples.

More than 75 people attended the morning event, which featured commentary from U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley, Luis V. Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky as well as testimony from LGBT couples.

James Cappleman, 46th Ward alderman, was among those who spoke on the negative impact DOMA has had on his life.

Cappleman and his partner, Richard Thale, have been together for 20 years.

Thale volunteers full-time while Cappleman earns the couple's income. Cappleman said that Thale will not be eligible to receive his social security benefits because the two are not federally recognized as spouses.

"Through the years, I have become a part of Richard's family and he is a part of mine," Cappleman said. "We're not asking for special rights. We're just asking for the same rights as other couples who happen to be heterosexual."

Angelica Lopez said that she and her partner, Claudia Mercado, cannot travel without documentation that two and their daughter are a family.

"We just want our children to know they will be protected no matter what," Lopez said.

Janean Watkins also said that DOMA has had a toll on her family.

"In so many ways, we are made to feel that we don't exist," said Watkins, sitting next to her partner Lakeesha Harris.

Harris and Watkins were the first in Chicago to receive a civil union license when they became available on June 1 this summer. The couple has six children together, but they say that lack of marriage recognition allows people to assume they are not family.

School officials question the couple on which of them is the "the real mother" of their children, Watkins said. "We feel disempowered, humiliated and depressed."

Grant Gochnauer talked about the affect DOMA has had on his relationship with Gabriel Fontes de Faria, a Brazilian citizen. Gochnauer said that he lives in fear that his partner of five years, who he cannot legally sponsor as his husband, will lose his job and be forced to move back to Brazil.

Also present were Trish and Kate Varnum, the famous Iowa couple who successfully sued for same-sex marriage in their state. Despite their win in 2009, the Trish Varnum said that DOMA prevents them from fully enjoying their legally-recognized relationship.

"We had to file three tax returns," she said. "Preparing tax returns are not free, unless you're an accountant."

Legal experts also weighed in on DOMA.

Gail H. Morse of Jenner and Block said the law placed unnecessary tax burdens on same-sex partners. People who support their partners financially are required to pay gift taxes on that support, she said.

Camilla Taylor, marriage project director for Lambda Legal, said that she believes DOMA burdens LGBT couples in three ways—it allows states to ignore marriages in other states, it supports discrimination in a variety of ways federally and it creates stigma against same-sex partners.

Heather Sawyer, Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, fielded questions about the legality of President Obama's decision to stop defending DOMA. Sawyer said the move to stop defending a law was not common but was within the president's rights.

"It is rare… but absolutely appropriate when the president determines a law to be unconstitutional," Sawyer said.

Quigley, Schakowsky and Gutierrez expressed their eagerness to see the end of DOMA. The three vowed to fight for the end of law.

"When it comes to matters of equality, it is always the right time to do the right thing," Quigley said. "We are a nation of laws, but our laws are based on our hearts."

Gutierrez said that he felt the legislature needed to catch up to public in support for same-sex marriage. "The American people are ahead of us," he said.

Schakowsky thanked the panelists for sharing their stories, which she said gave her new insight into challenges facing LGBT people who want to get married, among them was the issue same-sex parents face in traveling. "[Needing to carry documents] never would have occurred to me," she said.

Major LGBT leaders attended the event including state Rep. Greg Harris, 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, City of Chicago Commissioner on Human Relations Mona Noriega and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Debra Shore.

Lambda Legal hosted the forum, along with Quigley's office.

Quigley encouraged attendees to submit their own testimonies, which he said will be entered into public record. Those wishing to submit their stories about DOMA can do so through Quigley's website at .

This article shared 3268 times since Wed Oct 12, 2011
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