Obama’s shift on gay marriage cheered

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Joined by activists throughout the borough, city and state, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) applauded President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that his administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

“This is truly a historic moment in the history of our country,” Dromm said in a statement. “It’s the first time the president of the United States has recognized the rights of lesbian and gay people to marry.”

Dromm, one of two openly gay councilmen from Queens, celebrated the day of the announcement in front of his office at 37-23 75th St. in Jackson Heights.

The Defense of Marriage Act, which became federal law in 1996 under President Bill Clinton, both defines marriage on the federal level as a legal union between a man and a woman and does not require states to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions from other states. Obama has previously called for the law to be repealed.

While it is not legal to marry someone of the same sex in New York, the state recognizes unions from other states and countries.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement the administration had defended the act on previous occasions. But the law came up for scrutiny due to two recent suits against it filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit, which includes New York state, does not have an established standard for laws concerning sexual orientation. After review, the administration concluded that the part of the law defining marriage as between a man and woman was unconstitutional.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, also applauded the decision.

“This decision marks a victory for the LGBT community and for all Americans who believe in civil rights and equality under the Constituti­on,” she said.

Astoria activist Brendan Fay also joined Dromm with six other activists in applauding the decision. Fay married his husband in Canada in 2003 and assisted other couples, including Manhattan resident Edith “Edie” Windsor and her late wife Thea Spyer, in doing the same. Windsor filed one of the two suits cited by Holder because after the death of her spouse a $350,000 tax was levied on Spyer’s estate — a tax Windsor would have avoided if their marriage was recognized by federal law, court documents said.

“We have a ways to go, but this is a step in the right direction,” Fay said in a statement. “DOMA has deprived same-sex couples of various rights, including tax, medical and housing benefits.”

Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, co-chairman with Fay of Sunnyside’s St. Pat’s for All Parade, called the decision a new direction to ensure the civil rights of all.

“LGBT couples who are committed to each other should have the same legal and civil rights under the law,” D’Arcy said in a statement.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who is openly gay, said the decision sent a powerful message.

“While there remains much to accomplish, we should stop for a moment and be proud that our community has come together to successfully advocate for what is right for America,” Quinn said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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