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Patrick L.
Democrat VT

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  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Patrick J. Leahy

    Posted on 2015-01-06

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    LEAHY (for himself, Mr. Markey, Mr. Coons, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Franken, and Mrs. Boxer): S. 23. A bill to amend title 17, United States Code, with respect to the definition of ``widow'' and ``widower'', and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

    Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, over the past few years we have seen remarkable progress in one of the defining civil rights issues of our era--ensuring that all lawfully married couples are treated equally under the law. In 2011, when I chaired the first Congressional hearing to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, only 5 States, including Vermont, recognized same-sex marriage. With today's lifting of Florida's unconstitutional same-sex marriage ban, couples in 36 States and the District of Columbia now have the freedom to marry. This is welcome progress, and I hope we will see similar advancements in even more States this year so that all Americans can marry the one they love.

    Despite this tremendous progress, there is still more to be done to ensure that no person faces discrimination based on who they marry or wish to marry. As I said when the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, ``All couples who are lawfully married under state law, including in Vermont, should be entitled to the same Federal protections afforded to all other married couples.'' Court challenges will continue this year in the remaining States that do not recognize marriage equality. But in Congress, there are several steps we can take immediately to help ensure our Federal laws treat all marriages equally.

    Surprisingly, the Copyright Act, which protects our Nation's diverse creative voices, still bears vestiges of discrimination. A provision in the Act grants rights to the surviving spouse of a copyright owner only if the marriage is recognized in the owner's State of residence at the time he or she dies. This means that a writer who lawfully marries his or her partner in Vermont or California is not a ``spouse'' under the Copyright Act if they move to Michigan, Georgia, or one of the other States that do not currently recognize their marriage.

    Congress should close this discriminatory loophole to ensure our Federal statutes live up to our Nation's promise of equality under the law. As the Supreme Court recognized in striking down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, it is wrong for the Federal Government to deny benefits or privileges to couples who have lawfully wed.

    Today I am reintroducing the Copyright and Marriage Equality Act in the Senate to correct this problem. The bill, which I introduced in the Senate last Congress and which a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Representatives Derek Kilmer, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Jared Polis plans to reintroduce in the House of Representatives soon, amends the Copyright Act to look simply at whether a couple is lawfully married--not where a married couple happens to live when the copyright owner dies. It will ensure that the rights attached to the works of our Nation's gay and lesbian authors, musicians, painters, photographers, and other creators pass to their widows and widowers. Artists are part of the creative lifeblood of our Nation, and our laws should protect their families equally.

    When I introduced this bill last year, it failed to get the support of a single Republican in the Senate. I hope that in this Congress, Republicans will consider joining this effort to correct [[Page S13]] these remnants of discrimination in our Federal laws. On the issue of marriage equality, the arc of history is at long last bending towards justice, so that all Americans one day will be free to marry the one they love. Statutes like the Copyright Act, or laws governing the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs which also contain remnants of discrimination, are no place for inequality in our country. I urge the Senate to take up and pass this important piece of legislation.

    Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

    Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: S. 23 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the ``Copyright and Marriage Equality Act''.


    (a) In General.--Section 101 of title 17, United States Code, is amended by striking the definition of `` `widow' or `widower' '' and inserting the following: ``An individual is the `widow' or `widower' of an author if the courts of the State in which the individual and the author were married (or, if the individual and the author were not married in any State but were validly married in another jurisdiction, the courts of any State) would find that the individual and the author were validly married at the time of the author's death, whether or not the spouse has later remarried.''.

    (b) Effective Date.--The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply with respect to the death of any author that occurs on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

    ______ By Mrs. FEINSTEIN (for herself and Mr. Lee): S. 24. A bill to clarify that an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

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