Seventeen years ago, the Defense of Marriage Act became the law of the land. At the time, 342 voted in favor of the law and 67 opposed it in the House of Representatives. And in the Senate, 85 voted in favor it, 14 opposed.
As the Supreme Court now verges on striking down DOMA, msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell paused to remember “who was right when America needed them to be right.” Here are some of the lawmakers who had the political courage to say no to DOMA when it first came up in Congress:
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “I rise in strong opposition to this ill-named "Defense of Marriage Act" and I do so on the basis of conscience, Constitution and constituency.”Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii): “I understand some of the people who are sponsoring this bill are on their second or third marriages. I wonder which one they are defending.”Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.): “Whether senators are for or against same-sex marriage, there are ample reasons to vote against this bill because it represents an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power.”Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.): “I recognize that my views are likely to be in the minority as well as unpopular, but this isn't the first time I've come to the well to stand up for what I believe in, and it won't be the last.”Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.): “Let us not take part in this assault on lesbian and gay Americans and their families.”Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.): “Discrimination is discrimination, and it is wrong.”Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.): “I rise in opposition to this bill and I oppose it with both my head and my heart.”Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.): “I feel very strongly that this legislation is fundamentally wrong, and feeling as I do it would not be true to my conscience or my oath of office if I fail to speak out against it.”Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif): “To me, this is ugly politics. To me, it is about dividing us instead of bringing us together. To me, it is about scapegoating. To me, it is a diversion from what we should be doing.”Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.): “These couples are not hurting us with their actions, in fact they may be helping us by showing us that love can indeed conquer prejudice and hatred.”Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.): “The arguments against gay and lesbian marriage are essentially the same argument that we used to hear against black-white marriages.”Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): “This bill isn't conservative. It's Big Brother to the core. My judgment is this is a subject that the federal government ought not stick its nose into.”Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.): “Why do you want to destroy the love they hold in their hearts? Why do you want to crush their hopes, their dreams, their unions, their aspirations? We are talking about human beings, people like you.”Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.): “Why shouldn't my partner of 13 years be entitled to the same health insurance and survivor's benefits that individuals around here, my colleagues with second and third wives are able to give to them?”Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii): “It seems to be quite apparent that our court system is going to yield a decision which will validate same-sex marriage.”Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.): “We are going to prevail, Mr. Chairman. And we're going to prevail just as every other component of the Civil Rights movement in this country has prevailed.”Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.): “I hope that every person on this floor who is going to look at and vote on this bill considers for a moment what the judgment of history might be if 50 years from now their grandchildren look at their debates and look at their words in support of this mean-spirited legislation, and consider the judgment that will be cast upon them then.”