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Supporters of gay marriage have won a number of victories this year. There's the new law that permits same-sex nuptials in New York. And back in February, the Justice Department said it would no longer defend the federal law that restricts marriage to heterosexual couples.
This week, the White House said President Obama wants to overturn the law. Today, a Senate committee will consider a bill that would do just that and for the first time give federal benefits to same-sex couples who marry. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON: Ron Wallen spent more than half a century with the love of his life. His husband Tom died this year after a long and painful illness, a few months shy of their third wedding anniversary. Now Ron's not only grieving for his husband, he's also facing financial chaos.
Mr. RON WALLEN: It's hard to accept that it's the American government that's throwing me out of my family home.
JOHNSON: Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, a marriage must be between a man and a woman. So Ron's not entitled to get his husband's small monthly pension or his Social Security benefits, which are double the payments Ron gets on his own.
Mr. WALLEN: I lost my husband, my partner of 58 years and the love of my life, and now I'm going to lose the home we shared under very adverse circumstances because of this law.
JOHNSON: Ron will appear today before the Senate, where he'll ask lawmakers to pass a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The bill would also make clear that same-sex couples who marry are entitled to file joint tax returns, qualify for Social Security survivors' benefits, and enjoy other rights under federal law.
Only hours before the hearing, the White House weighed in, saying President Obama supports the bill. A spokesman says Mr. Obama believes the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights as straight people.
Five states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. And the new law in New York is set to take effect soon. But Joe Solmonese, who leads the Human Rights Campaign, says there's still a lot of misunderstanding.
Mr. JOE SOLMONESE (Human Rights Campaign): I think for many people in this country they are unaware that in states where same-sex marriage is the law of the land like New York, like Massachusetts we are still denied those fundamental federal benefits in those states.
Ms. MAGGIE GALLAGHER (National Organization for Marriage): My name is Maggie Gallagher. I'm chairman of the National Organization for Marriage.
JOHNSON: Gallagher's angry that the Obama Justice Department has walked away from the Defense of Marriage Act. And she says marriages between a man and a woman deserve a special place under the law.
Ms. GALLAGHER: These unions are unique. They make new life. They connect children in love to their mothers and fathers. That's not bigotry. It's common sense.
JOHNSON: The prospects for repealing DOMA in this congressional session are cloudy. There's more support in the Senate than in the House, but it's likely to be a campaign issue in the next round of elections. Ron Wallen says he knows any change in the law is likely going to come too late to help him.
Mr. WALLEN: I just want it to be right, and if not today, tomorrow, and this is the time to start it. The time is now.
JOHNSON: Or as most polls suggest, the time is coming closer.
Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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