Undoing DOMA a priority, Takano says
by Chris Carson
The Starbucks was closing. The staff was busily stacking chairs and mopping the floor, listening to the music of local rocker Ty Segall. Meanwhile, Mark Takano sat at a corner table with a small coffee, reflecting on his recent election to the House of Representatives, which made him the first openly gay non-white member of Congress as well as the first out congressman from California.
"I do think this is a new day in American politics, and I can't help but point out, as the first openly gay member of Congress from California, the interesting thing is I'm coming from Riverside County," Takano, a Democrat, said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter Sunday, February 17.
"If Riverside can be on the right side of history, there is hope our nation can be, too," he added, referring to the southern California region he represents that has historically been very conservative.
He paused. "That's a great line," he said with a laugh.
But since being elected to Congress in November, the former high school teacher and member of the Riverside Community College Board of Trustees will need to bring that same skill of creating tag lines to Washington, D.C. as a lawmaker. And it won't be easy. Takano joins a record number of five out House members in Congress and one out senator in that body. All are Democrats.
The Republicans currently control the House of Representatives and though Takano thinks, "on both sides, new members of Congress are mindful of trying to find common ground behind the scenes," there are still many issues Democrats and Republicans don't agree on that affect the LGBT community.
One of them is the extension of military benefits to partners or spouses of gay and lesbian service members. Last week, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta extended 20 benefits to same-sex military couples, among them education and visitation rights, but other benefits of health care and housing will remain limited to heterosexual couples, due to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
Takano, 52, who is a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said simply, "we will need to undo DOMA."
That may happen through the courts later this year. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a DOMA case next month; a decision determining the constitutionality of DOMA is expected by the end of June.
According to Takano, he and a number of members of Congress are planning on signing an amicus brief in support of Edith "Edie" Windsor, the plaintiff in the United States v. Windsor case that the high court will hear.
If the Supreme Court decides "in favor of Windsor, it's a big deal. It will extend federal recognition for same-sex marriages," Takano said.
But are LGBT lawmakers confident that will happen?
"I spoke to Barney Frank about this and Barney seems awfully optimistic that the court will decide in favor of Windsor," Takano said, referring to the recently retired congressman from Massachusetts.
"But in some ways, the failure of the court to rule in favor of Windsor would just mean that people like me are more needed than ever in Congress. We are going to be needed to champion the cause," he said.
The issue of DOMA came up again when Takano was asked about the other hot button issue with implications for same-sex couples; comprehensive immigration reform. Right now, DOMA prevents the U.S. born partner from sponsoring his or her foreign born partner for a green card, among other issues.
Takano is the son and grandson of Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during World War II so the issue of immigrant rights is one he takes seriously. Because one of his three brothers is married to an Australian woman he is aware immigration laws can break up families.
But as a single gay man, Takano said, "I've experienced attractions to people from different nations. So I'm acutely aware that the range of what's possible for me is currently limited by the law."
The challenge, Takano said, is to ensure that rights for same-sex couples are put into any comprehensive reform and stay there, "not have it voted separately."
Congressman Takano will be in San Francisco Friday, February 22 for a reception at the home of Bob Michitarian from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets start at $100 and can be purchased online at https://secure.actblue.com/page/takanosfreception.