The Defense of Marriage Act

In 1996, in response to the Baehr decision, the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). President Clinton signed DOMA into law. The act was designed to prevent the Full Faith and Credit Clause from being applied to states’ refusal to recognize same sex marriages. DOMA states in part that “No state, territory or possession of the United States … 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 a relationship.”

DOMA does not ban same-sex marriages in itself. Neither does it require any state to ban them. DOMA defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman only. The act also specifically denies federal benefits to same-sex couples. The act states that any federal law that applies to married couples does not apply to same-sex couple: statutory and administrative use of terms such as “marriage” and “spouse” under federal law only apply to heterosexual couples. In addition to the federal law, many states passed their own defense of marriage laws.


Inside The Defense of Marriage Act