DOMA: $10 Billion Waste Threatens Conservative Movement's Survival


To regain relevancy and survive, conservatives — Republicans, libertarians, Tea Party members, independents — must clearly choose between returning to their true, core principles (e.g., fiscal responsibility, limited government) versus continuing to waste public funds on policies of social oppression.

The best example of a restrictive policy that dooms the conservative movement is the 18-year-old DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).

The law’s true goal was to boost conservatives’ election results, but the sponsors falsely claimed that its purpose was to save money. That was untrue. It saves nothing. It consistently loses money. The savings that conservative authors promised never even started.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear conservative arguments, conceived, drafted, and bought with taxpayer dollars, claiming that outlawing same-gender marriage saves government money because it bans couples from programs they already paid for. But even after 18 years, conservatives can offer no evidence that supports this claim, because they know it’s false. That’s why they blocked the Congressional effort to require the General Accounting Office to itemize the costs and savings of repealing DOMA.

Despite conservatives falsely claiming that they were saving money, and then blocking an audit that would prove whether their claim was true, the approximate losses from DOMA’s federal fiscal fiasco have been public knowledge for nine years.

In 2004, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that if state and federal governments honored same-gender marriage nationwide from 2005 through 2015, the net effect would benefit the federal budget’s bottom line — by nearly $10 billion. Even though expenses would increase for federal programs such as veterans, pensions, and Social Security, those costs would be more than offset by: (1) decreased costs for programs such as elderly/disabled benefits, Medicaid, and Medicare, and (2) increased tax revenue because people pay more taxes when they’re married than when they’re single. Furthermore, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed that over the last decade, the number of same-gender couples grew in every single state, and grew nationally from 358,390 to 646,464 couples.  Had the Budget Office known nine years ago about that 80% increase, and also known that actual couples are 15% more than Census figures indicate, then the net $10 billion calculated in 2004 would have been estimated as far larger.

Beyond the federal red ink lost each year, DOMA — and measures like it — are increasingly threatening the very existence of the conservative movement. There are only a few remaining pockets of conservatives who still oppose same-gender marriage, and each of those groups is shrinking. Potential and former conservatives say that the stifling positions against social issues are what stop them from joining up, make them leave, and keep them from returning.

In this environment, laws like DOMA all will eventually be: (a) repealed because they are wasteful, (b) overturned because such discrimination is unconstitutional, or (c) never passed in the first place. In November, Minnesotans voted down a ban on same-gender marriage, Iowans voted to retain a Supreme Court justice who ruled in favor of marriage equality, Mainers created a new law for it right at the ballot box, and Marylanders and Washingtonians chose to keep existing laws for marriage equality. Now lawmakers in 12 more states are poised to do likewise. That will bring the total to 22 states, covering 45% of the nation’s people.

Meanwhile, flying in the face of progress and working to keep DOMA intact are the same people who authored it: older conservatives. Of the 279 Republicans in Congress today, 99% are blocking its repeal. Their party platform is committed to writing DOMA’s discriminatory language directly into the U.S. Constitution. 

Sixteen conservative attorneys general just filed a legal brief defending DOMA, in which they argue that banning same-gender couples from marriage encourages more mixed-gender couples to marry, and more of them to procreate, and to breed more often. They also argue that families with children by prior marriage, fertilization, surrogacy, foster care, and/or adoption are inferior, and deserve fewer legal rights.

Ten conservative U.S. senators just filed a legal brief defending DOMA, in which they argue that denying federal benefits to same-gender couples saves government money because that denial discourages them from marrying.

Twelve conservative attorneys general just filed a legal brief defending California’s same-gender marriage ban, in which they argue that same-gender marriages cause “disintegration” of mixed-gender marriages.

For all four of these claims, the conservatives behind DOMA offered not one shred of proof, even to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ten states have been marrying same-gender couples for up to ten years, but conservatives couldn’t find even one mixed-gender couple who avoided a wedding, curtailed their breeding, or disintegrated.

So far, none of the conservative arguments made for defending DOMA have survived courtroom scrutiny. Every argument attempted to date — scientific, historical, cultural, legal — has failed. The new ones being test driven this month at the U.S. Supreme Court are some of the weakest ever offered.

What potential conservatives are seeing and hearing now is just too discordant for them to tolerate. If the old guard doesn’t stop supporting DOMA-like measures, and doesn’t stop claiming to save money when they know they’re really wasting it, then the conservative movement will never recover all of the sympathy, influence, and control that it needs to survive.

The last batches of young, educated voters are about to jump ship for good, and no one’s stopping them.

Ned Flaherty is a Projects Manager at Marriage Equality USA. In this article, he represents himself, not the organization. He writes from Boston, Massachusetts.