Legislation

The Respect for Marriage Act repeals the discriminatory so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and returns the federal government to its constitutional role and common-sense practice of honoring lawful marriages celebrated in the states.

The Defense of Marriage Act

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unfairly denies married same-sex couples the 
1,138+ federal protections and responsibilities provided by marriage.  T

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unfairly denies married same-sex couples the 1,138+ federal protections and responsibilities provided by marriage. This discrimination directly burdens tens of thousands of lawfully married same-sex couples in the United States, as well as businesses, employees, and others who interact with these families. DOMA withholds from same-sex couples and their families the protections and support the federal government provides to other married people.

Currently, same-sex couples share in the freedom to marry in six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont) and the District of Columbia. There are now as many as 100,000 legally married same-sex couples in the United States. Because of DOMA, these couples are denied the federal protections, responsibilities and respect automatically afforded other legally married couples.  These include:

  • Sharing Social Security benefits with a spouse
  • Sponsoring a spouse for a green card or citizenship
  • Filing joint federal tax returns
  • Receiving the protections spouses are entitled to under the federal estate tax
  • Access to family and medical leave

DOMA complicates marriage, creating a patchwork of confusion where married couples must file state and local taxes differently, are uncertain of their rights and responsibilities, as well as burdens businesses and others interacting with the couples and their families. 

The Respect for Marriage Act

The Respect for Marriage Act repeals DOMA and returns our nation to its traditional approach to marriage:  States issue marriage licenses and the federal government respects lawful marriages, rather than undermining them.  To provide clarity to families, businesses, and the federal government itself, the Respect for Marriage Act specifies that once a couple is lawfully married, the federal government will treat them like other married couples with regard to federal protections. 

The Respect for Marriage Act does not tell states whom they must marry, whom they must treat as married, or how they must treat married couples, nor does it tell any religion what ceremonies to perform.  The Act does not change the meaning of marriage.  Same-sex couples get married for reasons similar to those of other couples: to make a lifelong commitment to love and protect one another and their families through good times and bad.  

Allowing committed gay and lesbian couples to share in marriage does not change the “definition” of marriage or take away from anyone else’s marriage; marriage is not defined by who is denied it.  The First Amendment protects the right of churches and religious bodies to determine the qualifications for religious marriage, and the Respect for Marriage Act cannot and will not upset that constitutional guarantee.

The Respect for Marriage Act provides the certainty that couples need in order to take care of their families – assuring them that once married, their marriage remains valid under federal law no matter where they live, work, or travel.

Voters Oppose DOMA and Republican Decision to Defend It

A national survey of registered voters found that overall, 51 percent oppose a Defense of Marriage Law that prohibits federal recognition of legally performed marriages. Just 34 percent favor. Independent voters, who were so instrumental in delivering the House to the Republicans in the 2010 elections, oppose this law by a 52 to 34 margin. Republicans divide nearly evenly (45 percent favor, 44 percent oppose), with nearly half disagreeing with their House leadership.

Support for the freedom to marry has increased at an accelerated pace over the past two years.  Support rose about 1.5% per year over a 13 -year period between 1996 and 2009.  In 2010 and 2011, it increased 5% per year.  Voters under 40 support marriage by almost 70% and as young people reach voting age, this rise is expected to continue.  In addition, since 2006, support has increased 15% among seniors, 8% among Republicans and 13% among Independents, who now support the freedom to marry by 56%.  Voter intensity has also equalized.  Since 2004, polls by ABC and the Washington Post show that “strong” support for marriage has increased by 12%, while “strong” opposition dropped by 13%.

Businesses Oppose DOMA Too

DOMA not only hurts families, but is also bad for business. In 2011, 70 businesses and organizations filed a brief in federal court highlighting DOMA’s harms to American companies. DOMA forces businesses to incur additional administrative burdens and expenses, strains employee relations and forces employers to affirm discrimination they regard as injurious to the corporate mission. The brief was signed by a wide diversity of corporations including Google, Microsoft, Nike and Starbucks.