Yesterday’s Senate hearing on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act was a case study in the contrasts between pro-marriage equality and anti-marriage equality arguments. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee called as witnesses gay citizens who had been actively hurt by DOMA, including two widowers who were left with no federal protections when their husbands died. Republicans, presumably unable to come up with any straight couples to testify that their marriages had been helped by DOMA, instead called a number of “experts” from right-wing think tanks to tell the gay witnesses that their second-class status is actually for the best.
This made for some jarring exchanges, most notably this one:
Ron Wallen, a 77-year-old Californian told the heartwrenching story of nursing his husband and partner of 58 years through leukemia…only to be left when he died in both emotional and financial turmoil. Because of DOMA, Wallen was unable to receive the protections that the federal government provides to widowed spouses, including Social Security survivor benefits. Because he does not have access to the financial safety net provided to all other widows, he is being forced to sell his home “even while I am still answering the condolence cards that come in the mail.”
The Survivor’s Benefit would have done for me what it does for every other surviving spouse in America — ease the pain of the loss, help during a very difficult transition, and allow time to make decisions and plan for my future alone. It is devastating to know that any married couple in the U.S. regardless of how long they were married, can depend on the Survivor’s Benefit. Yet, I could not –after 58 years with my spouse– simply because we were two married men. This is unfair and unjust.
After a lifetime of being a productive citizen, I am now facing financial chaos. Tom and I worked hard, and together we tried to live out our own version of the American dream. We served our country; we paid our taxes; we volunteered in the community; we bought a home and maintained it properly; and got married as soon as we were legally able to do so. And yet, as I face a future alone without my spouse of 58 years, it is hard to believe that it is the American government that is throwing me out of my family home.
Wallen’s heartfelt testimony was immediately followed by that of DOMA proponent Thomas Minnery of Focus on the Family, who, recognizing that his anti-equality testimony might seem callous coming directly after Wallen’s story, decided to try to save face by offering Wallen his organization’s help:
Mr. Wallen, my heart goes out to you. My organization is very large and we do a lot of counseling of families to help them thrive in a difficult and complex society, and we have resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles….Mr. Wallen, we have resources that I believe will help you even in your current situation, and if you’d permit us, we’d love to try to be helpful to you.
Minnery’s offer came off as slightly less than sincere when it was followed by five minutes of testimony about how giving Wallen’s marriage full federal benefits would lead to the destruction of American society.
The Advocate caught up with Wallen after the hearing, and asked him if he planned on taking Minnery up on his offer. Wallen responded: “I was shocked when he offered condolences, and was in disbelief when he was offering his services. If I were looking for help, his [organization] would be the last place I would go to.”
Someone should have told Minnery that it’s really hard to truly show your love for someone while you’re simultaneously lobbying for a law that’s specifically designed to hurt them.