Sen. Coburn's Disingenuous Support For DOMA

November 14, 2011 11:01 am ET — Jamison Foser

If you take Sen. Tom Coburn at his word, you have to wonder if the Oklahoma Republican can walk and chew gum at the same time. Earlier this year, Coburn said U.S. troops shouldn't come home from Afghanistan until we gut completely unrelated regulations like the Clean Air Act. Now he says he opposes marriage equality until the budget is balanced. During Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Coburn explained his opposition to repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act:

I, however, am really focused on other issues. And I'm concerned ... with the place we find ourself today as a nation. I went back three weeks ago and started reading clips about Greece two years ago. And we're doing exactly what they did. And I say to myself, 'How can we better be solving the immediate problems in front of our country?' [...]

So, you have the right to lead on any area that you want to, what you think is right, and I respect that and I honor your commitment and compassion to do that. But given what our country is facing, the very threat to our survival — I actually believe that now. Our survival as a nation is gonna depend on what we do in the next two years to get ourselves out of the whole we've dug ourselves in. Anything other than working on those problems right now should not be a priority. [...]

The fact is, is your compassion should be rewarded, your commitment should be rewarded, but now's not the time. Because it's not going to go anywhere. If things change, it will. But we ought to be spending our time doing things that will actually dig us out of the hole we're in. And so with the utmost respect to my colleagues who support this, I can't support it, for a couple of reasons, but the most important reason is we're not working on the priorities that the country needs us working on right now. And my hope would be when we're through with this, we will get back to the issues at hand, in front of our country.

Now, the most obvious problem with this line of reasoning is that there's no reason to wait until budgets are balanced before repealing DOMA; one doesn't have anything to do with the other. It doesn't have to take much time at all to pass DOMA repeal through the Senate — if people like Tom Coburn would just vote for it rather than, as seems inevitable, filibustering it. Opposing something on the grounds that it will take too much time when you're one of the reasons it will take more time than necessary is disingenuous, to say the least.

Nor does Coburn's professed commitment to focusing solely on "things that will actually dig us out of the hole we're in" pass the laugh test. This is a senator who spends his — and his colleagues' — time on purely symbolic efforts to save about $20 million in reduced unemployment payments and $11 million — over ten years — by closing a "Tackle Box Tax Break." Saving $11 million over ten years won't dig us out of anything. It's about 0.00003 percent of the federal budget. The economic activity that would result from legalized gay marriage might well do more to balance the budget than Coburn's trivial grandstanding.

The real reason Coburn doesn't want to repeal DOMA, which he co-sponsored, is that he favors discrimination against gay people. He says on his website "I support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman" to stop "activist judges" from "undermin[ing] DOMA." Coburn has said the "gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across the country" and its "agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today." That's why Coburn opposes DOMA repeal. Pretending that it's about fiscal responsibility is just more evidence that he doesn't have the courage of his convictions