Metro Weekly

Ted Cruz wants to strip federal benefits from same-sex families

Ted Cruz - Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr

Ted Cruz – Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr

At a time when Republican leaders are growing increasingly quiet on same-sex marriage, Sen. Ted Cruz is leaving no doubt where he stands on the issue. 

The State Marriage Defense Act reintroduced in Congress Tuesday by the Texas Republican would require the federal government to defer to the marriage laws of the state where a couple resides to determine if the couple is eligible for federal benefits, in effect invalidating for federal purposes the marriages of same-sex families living in the remaining 13 states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.

“Even though the Supreme Court made clear in United States v. Windsor that the federal government should defer to state ‘choices about who may be married,’ the Obama Administration has disregarded state marriage laws enacted by democratically-elected legislatures to uphold traditional marriage,” Cruz said in a statement. “I support traditional marriage and we should reject attempts by the Obama Administration to force same-sex marriage on all 50 states. The State Marriage Defense Act helps safeguard the ability of states to preserve traditional marriage for their citizens.”

Cruz was joined by 11 Republican senators in reintroducing the bill: John Boozman (Ark.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Steve Daines (Mont.), James Inhofe (Okla.), James Lankford (Okla.), Mike Lee (Utah), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and David Vitter (La.). The bill was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) with 23 cosponsors, all Republicans.

With states like Texas one of the few to still not recognize same-sex marriage, Weber said it is imperative Congress prevent federal agencies from undermining intact marriage laws in states like Texas. “States are currently struggling against activist court judges overstepping their constitutional authority by legislating from the bench, and an Obama Administration attempting to counter marriage laws voted on by the American people,” Weber said in a statement.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in Windsor, striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the Obama administration has broadly implemented the ruling across the federal government. With few exceptions, federal benefits have been extended to legally married same-sex couples no matter what state they live in. And where those benefits have not been extended, the Obama administration has pushed to resolve those issues. 

In the his proposed budget for fiscal year 2016, President Obama calls for the Social Security Act to be amended in order to equalize Social Security spousal benefits for married same-sex couples. Due to the Obama administration’s legal interpretation of the “place of domicile” rule, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been prohibited from adopting a place of celebration rule for certain programs and must instead confer benefits based on the laws of the state where a married same-sex couple lives.

But Cruz’s bill would undo what is considered the greatest conferral of equal rights, benefits and obligations to LGBT people in American history. 

“Ted Cruz and Randy Weber are proposing legislation that would do real harm to legally married same-sex couples in states across this country,” said JoDee Winterhof, vice president for Policy and Political Affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. “But what really stands out is the fact that they would use this reckless and irresponsible legislation to take important federal benefits away from their own Texas constituents.” Those benefits include such things as federal employee health benefits, military spouse benefits and immigration rights for same-sex couples.

According to the bill, “Actions taken by the Federal Government to grant recognition of marital status for persons not recognized as married in their State of domicile undermine a State’s legitimate authority to define marriage for its residents.”

Winterhof said the reintroduction of the bill by Cruz and Weber “just solidified their standing as two of the most extreme opponents of equality in America.”

What’s more, the move comes at a time when it appears increasingly likely the Supreme Court will strike down the remaining bans on same-sex marriage later this year — a reality even Republican leadership appears to have come to accept.

On Monday, the high court declined to put same-sex marriages in Alabama on hold, in what appeared to be a signal that the court will rule in favor of marriage equality later this year. In a written dissent, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the denial of a stay “may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question” of same-sex marriage.

Speaking to reporters in recent days, Republican leadership in both chambers of Congress has shown little desire to spend time fighting the issue. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who spent $2.5 million defending DOMA after the Obama administration refused to, said it is unlikely House Republicans would weigh in on the same-sex marriage bans out of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee to be considered by the Supreme Court. “I don’t expect that we’re going to weigh in on this,” Boehner said. “The court will make its decision and that’s why they’re there, to be the highest court in the land.”

And while House and Senate Democrats are expected to file a brief urging the Supreme Court to legalize marriage equality nationwide, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was noncommittal about the possibility a brief could be filed by congressional Republicans. “The Court is going to decide this issue, apparently,” McConnell told reporters yesterday, according to Talking Points Memo. “Whether or not they leave it to the states, we don’t know yet. But we’re looking forward to reading what they have to say.”

Cruz, however, is digging in. According to his office, the potential 2016 presidential candidate will introduce a constitutional amendment later this year to “make explicit that marriage is a policy question for the democratically-elected legislatures in each of the 50 states.” Cruz vowed to introduce such an amendment last October, when he lashed out at the Supreme Court for “abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution” by allowing rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in five states to stand, thus legalizing marriage equality in all states covered by the 4th Circuit, 7th Circuit and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals.

“I don’t think this move by Senator Cruz comes as a surprise to anyone — Democrat or Republican,” said Gregory T. Aneglo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. “It also shouldn’t be cause for concern, either, as this legislation has absolutely zero chance of passing and amounts to little more than political posturing, one more name among a fringe right falling over themselves to nab the evangelical Christian vote in 2016.”

However, as Cruz attempts to court social conservatives from such potential rivals as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Angelo issued a warning to Cruz on what the consequences could be for such political posturing: “I’d caution Senator Cruz against this, however, as the conservative evangelical vote is going to split big time next year and legislation like this has the potential to poison the electorate that voted the Senate into Republican control only three months ago.” 

State Marriage Defense Act

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.

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