The Issue

Same-sex couples in the United States can experience three layers of marriage rights and discrimination. Loving and committed same-sex couples are excluded from marriage in 37 states. Couples in these states are denied the same state and federal protections given to legally married couples in those states because they are denied the right to marry.


For those legally married couples who live in a state that respects their marriage, those couples are eligible for both state and federal protections and responsibilities. Same-sex couples who legally wed in a freedom to marry state but live in one of the 37 states that does not respect their marriage may have access to some federal rights and benefits - but not to others, at least not immediately. It is this disparate treatment and further lack of respect by the federal government because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which makes repealing DOMA and passage of the Respect for Marriage Act crucial.


On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court overturned Section 3 of DOMA, taking the first step toward returning the federal government to its longstanding practice of honoring marriages celebrated in the states, without a “gay exception.” The ruling has already been implemented in several essential areas. Now, DOMA must be fully overturned, not only to take this discriminatory language off the U.S. statutes for good but also to codify crucial programs and ensure certainty regardless of where a legally married couple lives. We know that all married couples – including same-sex couples – should be treated as married by the federal government no matter where they live. That would be ensured by repealing DOMA and passing the Respect for Marriage Act.


Access to federal marital protections for married same-sex couples who have moved to states that discriminate against their marriages may take some work – chiefly by pursuing congressional repeal through the Respect for Marriage Act. Freedom to Marry’s federal program educates and enlists Beltway decision-makers, elected officials, and influencers to make the case for the freedom to marry while building support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would fully overturn DOMA.