This past week was truly a historic week for our nation. The Supreme Court ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional as its “demonstrated purpose is to ensure that if any State decides to recognize same-sex marriages, those unions will be treated as second-class marriages for purposes of federal law.”
DOMA’s principal effect was to identify a subset of state-permitted marriages and make them unequal. The result of DOMA was to impose inequality and to deny the dignity and integrity of the person in a committed, loving relationship.
Edie Windsor, the woman who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court said in an interview with Diane Sawyer about the Supreme Court decision: “It is the beginning of the end of stigma, the end of lying about who we are.”
To their credit, the Department of Homeland Security has embraced this change wholeheartedly and is working to incorporate this change into every area of immigration law that it touches. I know so many families for whom this will make all the difference.
Another historic event this past week was the Senate’s approval of their immigration reform bill S. 744. In a vote of 68-32, the Senate demonstrated remarkable bipartisan commitment to remedy our dysfunctional immigration system in a spirit of compromise and cooperation.
The passing of the Senate bill was what I most fervently hope is the beginning of the end of “stigma” for the millions of aspiring Americans who live in the shadows, who fear separation of families, who struggle to be accepted by the communities of which they are already an integral part.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said that for “any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members.” His statement however, ignores the fact that the majority of Americans support the principles of the Senate bill including a roadmap to citizenship.
I understand the desire of the House to follow “regular order” which would mean that the House Judiciary Committee would first take up any immigration legislation. So if that’s the sticking point, we need to call on the members of the House Judiciary Committee get in gear and show how our political system can embrace what makes America great. They can move forward to end more than 20 years of a dysfunctional immigration system that stifles our ability to bring talent, separates families and does not protect our borders.
Immigrants have been part of the American social fabric since the founding of our nation. Immigrants are our communities. They are the colleague in the office down the hall, the mother sitting in the church pew next to you, the pastor celebrating Sunday service, the doctor who has taken care of your family, the teacher who shares her knowledge with our children.
When I think about what the birthdate of our nation means, I think about all the then aspiring Americans who celebrated that fateful day of July 4, 1776 and the many more who have since had a profound impact on our country and its success. So many of them are immigrants. Their story is our story. So many of us, the American people, are immigrants, and that is our strength.
As we gather this week to celebrate the fourth of July, let’s remember the principles upon which America was founded in the values of family, liberty, respect and dignity and let’s hope our leaders in the House of Representatives will stand up for those values and pass immigration reform.