As more and more states entertained the idea of same-sex unions, opponents found refuge in the passing of the Defense of Marriage Act, also referred to as “DOMA”, signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.
What It Says
The act has two purposes: The first is to relieve states of the obligation of recognizing any same-sex marriages, even when the marriage is performed and recognized by another state. The second part to DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing any such union as well as polygamous marriages, regardless of whether or not the union is considered legal in any of the individual states.
What It Does
In essence, the Act effectively invalidates any marriage or similar union between couples that don’t fit the standard definition of “marriage” – in this case, a legal union between one man and one woman. This nullifies any federal benefits that might have otherwise been extended to same-sex spouses since there are now several states that recognize same-sex unions in one form or another.
In addition, the Act also provides individual states with the ability to ignore same-sex unions performed and recognized in other states, successfully limiting the rights of gay and lesbian couples.
Things You Need To Know
There are in fact, several states that allow some sort of same-sex union. Civil unions for example, are currently allowed in nine states including New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont. Each state has different laws surrounding such a union and also varies in the degree of benefits and rights that go with it.
Several states in the U.S. now allow same sex marriage, joining regions such as Canada, Spain and the Netherlands as proponents of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples. Other states continue to re-evaluate the definition of marriage either through legislation, constitutional amendment or court decisions.
Legal Issues Opponents of DOMA have questioned its constitutionality and argue that it violates three rights guaranteed by the Constitution:
• The Equal Protection Clause
• The Full Faith and Credit Clause
• The Due Process Clause
These challenges to the Act have been presented to the Supreme Court on numerous occasions but have failed to result in overturning the law.
Supporters of DOMA have responded to the question of constitutionality by proposing an amendment to the Constitution itself that would limit legal marriages and the accompanying rights and benefits to unions that were between one man and one woman. Such an amendment would render any challenges to DOMA useless.
To date, there have been three such amendments put to vote but all have failed to pass.