Marriage Equality USA

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Legislation - Enacted

Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Author/Sponsor: U.S. Representative from Georgia Bob Barr (then a Republican)
Date Introduced: May 1996
Date Enacted: 21 September 1996


  • The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a United States federal law that defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman and allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.
  • Section 2. Powers Reserved to the States: No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.
  • Section 3. Definition of Marriage: In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. (Ruled unconstitutional by SCOTUS on 26 June 2013)
  • Until Section 3 of the Act was ruled unconstitutional on 26 June 2013, DOMA, in conjunction with other statutes, had barred same-sex married couples from being recognized as "spouses" for purposes of federal law, effectively barring them from receiving 1,138 federal marriage benefits. DOMA's passage did not prevent individual states from recognizing same-sex marriage, but it imposed constraints on the benefits received by all legally married same-sex couples.
  • Initially introduced in May 1996, DOMA passed both houses of Congress by large, veto-proof majorities and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in September 1996. By defining "spouse" and its related terms to signify a heterosexual couple in a recognized marriage, Section 3 codified non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes.
  • Clinton and many key legislators later actively advocated for DOMA's repeal.
  • Advocating for the repeal of DOMA was a key point in Barrack Obama's 2008 campaign for president.
  • The Obama administration announced in 2011 that it had concluded Section 3 was unconstitutional and that although the administration would continue to enforce the law while it existed, it would no longer defend the law in court.
  • In United States v. Windsor (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

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