In 1996, the arguments against the Defense Against Marriage Act (DOMA) weren’t any different — but the political atmosphere was. As the bill was argued on the floor of the House of Representations, civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) made the case against a federal ban on same-sex marriage as eloquently as it has ever been made:
When I was growing up in the South during the forties and the fifties, the great majority of people in that region believed that black people shouldn’t be able to enter places of public accommodation. And they felt that black people shouldn’t be able to register to vote. And many people felt that was right, but that was wrong. I think as politicians, as elected officials, we should not only follow but we should lead, lead our districts. You cannot tell people they cannot fall in love.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say when people talked about interracial marriages, and I quote: “Races do not fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married.”
Why do you not want your fellow men and women, your fellow Americans to be happy? Why do you attack them? Why do you want to destroy the love they hold in their hearts? Why do you want to crush their hopes, their dreams, their longings, their aspirations?
We are talking about human beings, people like you, people who want to get married, buy a house, and spend their lives with the one they love. They have done no wrong.
I will not turn my back on another American. I will not oppress my fellow human beings. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Mr. Chairman, I have known racism. I have known bigotry. This bill stinks of the same fear, hatred and intolerance. It should not be called the Defense of Marriage Act. It should be called the Defense of Mean-Spirited Bigots Act.
I urge my colleagues to oppose this bill, to have the courage to do what is right. This bill appeals to our worst fears and emotions. It encourages hatred of our fellow Americans for political advantage. Every word, every purpose, every message is wrong. It is not the right thing to do, to divide Americans.
We are moving toward the 21st century. Let us come together and create one nation, one people, one family, one house, the American house, the American family, the American nation.