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My Relationship — a Threat to Our Country
Federal Hearing Testimony of Keith A. Bradkowski
Introduction by Demian
© November 14, 2003, Demian


A hearing was called on September 4, 2003, by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution Civil Rights and Property Rights. It was called “What is Needed to Defend the Bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act of 1996?” [The act is otherwise known as “DoMA.” See our article: DoMA: Description and the Bill’s Text.]

Sen. Cornyn held the hearing declaring that the Senate must consider what steps may be necessary “to safeguard the institution of marriage” in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s pro-civil rights Lawrence vs. Texas ruling, and the cases in Massachusetts and New Jersey that could potentially legalize same-sex marriage. Cornyn and others argue that these recent events may make DoMA vulnerable to Constitutional challenges.

The senator, and others, are convinced they need to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. We can only ponder: will there never be an end to this slippery slope? The fact is, DoMA was unconstitutional even before the Lawrence case.

While Sen. Cornyn stated that the point of the hearing was simply to gather information on whether or not DoMA would be susceptible to court challenges, witnesses for and against same-sex marriage spoke about the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). [Please see our article: Constitutional Amendment: Codifying Hatred.] This current bill would amend the U.S. Constitution to permanently define marriage as only between one man, and one woman. It would also deny each state the right to decide family law and relationship recognition for itself. Potentially, it could be used to forbid any contracts between same-sex couples or business partners.

Since the Bill of Rights, there have been 18 amendments to the Constitution. Except for Prohibition, which was later removed, no other amendment has been made to remove civil rights. Should FMA pass, it would be the first time that an amendment was created to deny rights and protections to a single class of American citizens.

Cornyn was the only one of the subcommittee’s five-member Republican contingent to show up for the hearing. Each of the panel’s four Democrats on the committee spoke against the punitively discriminatory FMA. They were: Senators Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Also appearing was Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the full Senate Judiciary Committee. He, too, spoke out against the constitutional amendment. From Sen. Leahy:

“We sit here today in a time of economic troubles at home and deepening problems abroad, and perhaps such a constitutional amendment serves as a handy, if divisive, distraction. But the Defense of Marriage Act — which this hearing has been called to examine — already defines marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and a woman, and no court has questioned that law. With all of these timely and pressing issues demanding solutions right now, it is difficult to see why this issue demands the attention of Congress, and I fear that it may be politically tempting for some outside the Congress to score political points at the expense of gay and lesbian Americans. To be clear, I do not support the Federal Marriage Amendment nor is it necessary, and I hope and expect that it will be unsuccessful in the Senate if it is introduced here.”
Six witnesses also testified at the hearing. Four supported permanently banning same-sex couples from attaining the rights and protections of civil marriage. They were: Rev. Dr. Ray Alexander Hammond, Pastor, Bethel AME Church; Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy; Gregory S. Coleman of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP; and Michael P. Farris Chairman & General Counsel of the Home School Legal Defense Association and President and Professor of Government of Patrick Henry College.

Only two witnesses were allowed to testify against DoMA and the FMA. One was Dale Carpenter of the University of Minnesota Law School, who maintained that FMA goes against the conservative principle of federalism. He stated that the amendment would be “unnecessary, unwise, undemocratic.” Said Carpenter:

“The FMA would impose a single, nationwide definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It would prohibit state courts or even state legislatures from authorizing same-sex marriages. Purporting to protect the states from gay marriage, the FMA tramples federalism. ”
The other was Keith Bradkowski, whose entire testimony we reprint below.

Testimony of Keith A. Bradkowski
Before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s
Subcommittee on the Constitution
September 4, 2003
Good afternoon Honorable Chairman and Members of the subcommittee.

My name is Keith Bradkowski and I am a resident of California. I’ve been a registered nurse since 1983 and have worked for many years in hospital administration.

It was on a Tuesday, almost exactly two years ago, that I received a call from American Airlines notifying me that I had lost my life partner, Jeff Collman. Jeff was an American Airlines flight attendant who volunteered to work an extra trip on September 11th. His flight was the first of four planes hijacked by terrorists that day. I know in my heart Jeff died with courage, trying to protect the passengers and crew.

The last time I spoke with Jeff — who was my soul mate of 11 years — was at about at 2am Boston time on the morning of the 11th. He had awoken in the middle of the night and uncharacteristically called me to say “I love you and can’t wait to get home.” I believe he must have had some premonition of the events to come, and I feel blessed to have had that last moment with him.

Jeff was the ultimate caregiver — I experienced his caring by the trail of post-it notes he left for me every time he went on a trip. His last note, still on my bathroom mirror, greets me every morning with a “Guess who loves you?”

Jeff and I had exchanged rings and we were married in our hearts. Legally, it was another matter entirely.

After his death, I was faced not only with my grief over losing Jeff — who was indeed my better half — but with the painful task of proving the authenticity of our relationship over and over again. With no marriage license to prove our relationship existed, even something as fundamental as obtaining his death certificate became a monumental task.

And that was just the beginning.

During the years we were together, Jeff paid taxes and had social security deducted from his paycheck like all other Americans do. But without a civil marriage license, I am denied benefits that married couples and their families receive as a matter of routine.

Jeff died without a will, which meant that while I dealt with losing him, I also had huge anxiety about maintaining the home we shared together. Without a marriage license to prove I was Jeff’s next of kin, even inheriting basic household possessions became a legal nightmare.

Married couples have a legal safety net of rights and protections that gay Americans are currently denied. Until Jeff died, I had no idea just how vulnerable we were — where married couples have security and protection, gay couples are left without a net.

Like so many other gay Americans, my mourning and grief were compounded by the stress and anxiety of horrific legal uncertainty and confusion.

The terrorists who attacked this country killed people not because they were gay or straight, but because they were Americans. It is heart wrenching that our own government does not protect its citizens equally, gay and straight, simply because they are Americans.

Two years ago, we were all united against the common threat of terrorism. Now, less than two years later, I am sitting here and being told that my relationship was a threat to our country.

Jeff and I only sought to love and take care of each other. I do not understand why that is a threat to some people, and I cannot understand why the leaders of this country would hold a hearing on the best way to prevent that from happening.

In closing, I would like to read an excerpt from a letter that Jeff wrote to me on our last anniversary:

“Keith, we’ve been through much the past 11 years. Our lives haven’t always been easy, but through it all, our undeniable love for each other has carried us through! I love you — don’t ever forget that! When you’re feeling lonely and I’m not home with you, just pull out this letter and read my words to you once again and know how much you will always mean to me! With loving thoughts of you now and forever, Jeff.”
I truly believe I have learned the meaning of the phrase — Love is Eternal.

Thank you. I am honored to have had this chance to appear before you.

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