Al Franken Slays Focus on the Family’s “Facts” and Other DOMA Hearing Highlights

The first-ever hearing on the DOMA-repealing “Respect for Marriage Act” happened today in the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and we laughed, we cried and it was WAY better than CATS. The Associated Press enjoyed it so much that they made a highlights reel for you:

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So! Senator Dianne Feinstein initially introduced the Respect for Marriage Act on March 16th after the Department of Justice announced it’s opposition to defending DOMA because DOMA is unconstitutional and also very unpleasant for a large group of very nice people. As we reported yesterday, Obama agrees with this assessment.

We’ll get into a full recap of today’s hearings momentarily, but we’re gonna start out with the two smackdowns of Team Totally Right Making Team Totally Wrong Look Totally Wrong that you’ve seen buzzing around the internets this morning. These conversations took place during the question-and-answer period following the testimony of several witnesses including Focus on the Family’s Thomas Minnery.

First up was Senator Al Franken, who challenged Focus on the Family’s Thomas Minnery‘s written testimony.

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In that testimony, Minnery cited a Department of Health & Human Services study to prove the following point:

“Children living in their own married, biological or adopted with their own married biological and/or adopted mothers and fathers were generally healthier and happier… compared with children in any other family form.”

Franken read the study himself and disagrees with Minnery’s assessment. Franken pointed out that the study actually says: “Nuclear families, not opposite-sex married families, are associated with those positive outcomes.”

Franken then asked Minnery, “Isn’t it true that a married same-sex couple that has had or adopted kids would fall under the definition of a nuclear family in the study which you cite?”

Minnery responded that he assumed “nuclear family” meant one man and one woman, but Franken pointed out that “it doesn’t.” Har.

Rather, the study defines nuclear families as “one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all the children in the family.”

Franken concluded: “I don’t really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies in these ways.”

That is to say, “incorrectly.”


The next smackdown came from  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)‘s questioning of — you guessed it — Thomas Minnery!

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Leahy wanted Minnery to address Minnery’s contradictory positions regarding how, precisely, one ought to both Focus on the Family AND put LGBT families at a distinct economic disadvantage. Leahy asked if children were better off in a LGBT family or with no family at all:

Minnery: They’re certainly better off than if they had no home headed by parents but same- sex marriage says a whole lot more than that senator —

Leahy: Are they not disadvantaged by not having the same financial benefits that an opposite sex family would have?

Minnery: Well, as I say, not knowing the details of which families you are speaking off, certainly children are better off with parents in the home.

Leahy: Yes or no, it’s not a trick question – if you have parents legally married under the laws of the state – one set of parents are entitled to certain financial benefits for their children, the other set of parents are denied those same financial benefits for their children…are not those children of the second family, are they not at a disadvantage, yes or no?

Minnery: That would be yes, as you asked the question earlier Senator.



The hearing kicked of at 9:45 AM EST with Chairman Patrick Leahy’s opening remarks about how awesome Vermont and New York are for legalizing gay marriage and how he can’t imagine what he’d do if his marriage wasn’t acknowledged by this fine nation.

new york subway love (via jeschke)

After Lead Sponsor Dianne Feinstein’s opening statement, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa had some opening remarks in defense of DOMA, which included actual bullsh*t in addition to objective bullsh*t, as reported by Metro Weekly:

[Grassley] later referenced Obama’s support for “traditional marriage” in the 2008 presidential campaign and, incorrectly, said, “Until yesterday, he was a supporter of DOMA.” Although the administration support for a specific bill was new on July 19, Obama had — including during the 2008 campaign — supported the repeal of DOMA.

The hearing featured three panels, starting with Congressman and respected Civil Rights leader John Lewis (GA) and Rep. Jerrod Nadler of New York, who spoke in support of a DOMA repeal, and Senator Steve King of Iowa who spoke in defense of it.

John Lewis said all this hate/homophobia he’s fighting against reminds him of all that hate/racism he fought against in the 60’s. He accurately described DOMA as “a stain on our democracy.”

Here’s Jarrod Nadler:

“DOMA’s supporters still claim that the law should survive, and argue primarily that DOMA serves a legitimate interest in protecting the welfare of children by promoting an ‘optimal’ family structure — one that consists of a married opposite-sex couple raising their biological children. But there is no credible support for the notion that children are better off with opposite-sex parents or that married gay and lesbian parents do not provide an equally loving, supportive, and wholesome environment.”

Panel II featured people impacted by DOMA and kicked off with Ron Wallen, a 77-year old from Indio, California whose husband and partner of 58 years died of leukemia a few months ago. The couple had married during that brief lovely time known as “when gay marriage was legal in California” but DOMA still affected the couple’s affairs.

Wallen testified that, “Tom’s illness was four years of pure hell… not a month went by that I wasn’t rushing him to the emergency room.”

Tom died on March 8th, and since then Wallen’s life has been “thrown into financial turmoil because of DOMA.” The couple’s reliable monthly income (from social security benefits, pension and what remained of their investments after the 2008 stock market crash) went from $3,050 to $900, which is $1,100 less than the monthly mortgage Wallen owes on their home. Denied widower’s benefits allowed to straight married couples, Ron has been kicked out of his home.

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Next up was Thomas Minnery, Vice President for Public Policy for “Focus on the Family,” who said a bunch of asinine things one would expect from someone who thinks they belong on the panel of human beings directly affected by this legislation.

This was followed by another moving testimony from Andrew Sorbo, a gay man whose husband died three months after they were legally married in Connecticut. They’d been together for nearly 30 years and Sorbo was forced to leave his home of 18 years because of DOMA.

Panel II’s testimonies concluded with Susan M. Murray, a family law attorney with a lesbian partner of 25 years, who spoke about the difficulties DOMA places on LGBT families and couples.

The question & answer period following Panel II was where Franken and Leahy executed their smackdowns, as described at the top of this post.

Panel III starred your email buddy Joe Solomnese of the HRC, Senior Legal Counsel to the Alliance Defense Fund David Austin R. Nimocks (Team Totally Wrong), Ethics and Public Policy Center President Edward Whelan (Team Totally Wrong) and Evan Wolfson, founder and Executive Director of Freedom to Marry. You can read Wolfson’s entire written testimony here.

Sidenote: Edward Whelan’s got a little creative with the title of his written testimony — rather than “Hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act of 2011,” he wrote “Hearing on the So-Called ‘Respect for Marriage Act of 2011.'”

The hearing ended with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who expressed excitement about this weekend’s New York Gay Marriage Marathon and also frustration that DOMA still blocks these people from federal recognition. He said something along the lines of: “This is wrong and something must be done about it!”

I liked this quote from LGBT POV, which I think sums up how a lot of us have been feeling lately with so much sudden support for our causes from government officials:

“After so many years of antigay rhetoric from Congressmembers and Senators as if it is natural for the despised LGBT people to be held as second class citizens – this hearing (as with the words about integrity from Admiral Mullen during the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell hearings) – are enough to make a cynical gay like me to believe that full equality might actually be achievable before I die.”

I never thought all this would feel as surreal as it does.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3211 articles for us.


  1. This smackdown completely made my day.

    Also, can we all just forget about Michele Bachmann and focus on Minnesota’s awesome politicians? Franken is great.

  2. As a human being directly affected by this legislation I really hope DOMA dies a thousand deaths. And although it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see all these people fighting for our cause somehow I cannot see this being repealed legislatively anytime soon.

  3. I don’t understand how someone can listen to a story about a couple together for 58! years and still say that gay marriage is wrong and bad for society. How many opposite-sex marriages make it that long?
    Also Al Franken is amazing.

  4. what about that study that says that children from lesbian households are happier and more well adjusted and all those other good things? someone bring that up!

  5. Actually, Al Franken said that, frankly, he doesn’t know how they can trust the rest of that guy’s testimony.

    I see what you did there, Al.

  6. The smackdowns were amazing, Sen Lahey seemed to lack basic comprehension of spoken english, and Ron Wallens was wonderful and hearbreaking and almost made me cry.

  7. That was a great read and a great watch. Thanks Riese =)

    Silly sidenote: I thought Al Franken was a comedian and was thoroughly confused with his stature as senator, until I realized I had gotten him confused with Lewis Black. Yowza.

    • he was a comedian! i don’t know how old you are but when i was growing up he was on Saturday Night Live and he did the Stuart Smalley show thing. then he like started doing political writing and talking and then decided to run for Senate.

      • Ohhhh holy shit okay I knew he looked familiar lol Wow, awesome on him for his success in politics now =D

    • He’s done pretty damn good job at transitioning from being a comic to a political writer and Senator.

  8. In that clip Senator Leahy just reminds me of a grumpy grandpa-type pinning down Minnery like he’s a misbehaving kid trying to get away with his lies.

  9. Thanks Riese, a fine joy reporting. I am also totally amazed and semi in shock that this is all happening, only kept on the ground by the likely timeframe still ahead before DOMA justly crumbles into dusty grey cracker crumbs like Voldemort.

  10. I like these smackdowns, this is really fun to watch and read. Seriously, thanks! I still can’t help but feel kinda pissed off at leahy for supporting doma to begin with, and i don’t know that franken was doing the gay community any favors with his stuart smalley character, like 75% of the humor there was laughing at an effeminate gay man with poor self-esteem, but it’s also totally awesome that both of them are now making team totally wrong look like the a-holes they are. It’s all pretty crazy, and for sure an awesome thing, i think.

  11. This:
    “Male parents also make more use of non-verbal cues, verbal noises like grunts as well as eye and head movement. Both boys and girls with fathers have more opportunity to learn how men communicate non-verbally and what such cues really mean.”
    is hysterical. Focus on the Family should really focus on developing their burgeoning comedic talents.

  12. If I could, I would grant everyone the right to marry. I’d also grant Sen. Patrick Leahy a lozenge. Dude’s voice is hella gravelly. I was like, “When did Clint Eastwood become a Senator?”

  13. it’s still a bit difficult to hear the opposing republicans speak in favor of “one man, one woman” in the first video. thanks for sparing us the minnery testimony. smh. it’s so hard to believe people can make such a big deal out of letting two people be together and successfully raise kids. part of me wants to ignore it all, and think only about the happy accepting world that my college can be. fuckk doma

  14. asdkjfskfs;kdj
    This makes me so excited! And so enraged, at the same time. I mean, how do they not see it? How do they not understand?

  15. Maybe the future of LGBT Americans isn’t that bleak afterall. :D This article made my day.

  16. I don’t live in U.S, so I don’t really understand the laws there. Why does a same-sex couple who legally married during the window period in California when same-sex marriage was legalized still does not enjoy the benefits of a normal marriage after the demise of one spouse (Ron Wallen)? Aren’t they still considered married since the marriage licenses issued during that period are counted as valid?

    • We have state marriage rights and federal marriage rights, so any couples who are married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage don’t receive federal benefits since they don’t recognize same-sex marriages. Social security is a federal benefit, so when his husband died, Ron Wallen wasn’t able to transfer his husband’s social security benefits like any widow in a legal opposite-sex marriage would have been able to do. I’m sure it’s much more complicated than that, but that’s my basic understanding.

      • Thank you clearing up, now I understand. No wonder DOMA is also important to those living in states that already recognizes same-sex marriages.

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