Defense of Marriage Act -
the What, When, and Why

The Defense of Marriage Act (also known as "DOMA") can be tricky to understand - what is it all about anyways, and why does Wikipedia use such legal-ese language when trying to explain it?! Here's the dumbed-down version for the rest of us!

The DOMA - the WHAT

The DOMA (in the USA) says that no state needs to honor a same-sex marriage from another state.

For example, if a gay couple gets married in a state where gay marriage is allowed (eg- Vermont) and then moves to a state where it's not allowed (eg- Texas), the state of Texas doesn't have to recognize the couple as being legally married.

This means that in Texas this couple might not be able to file joint-taxes, get social security spousal benefits, adopt children, get health insurance that covers them and their "spouse," or get any other type of government benefit that married couples usually get.

Defense of Marriage Act - the WHEN and the WHY

President Clinton signing the Defense of Marriage Act

The Defense of Marriage Act was authored by, and introduced to Congress by Republican congressman, Bob Barr. After the bill was passed by Congress, US President Bill Clinton signed the DOMA into law on September 21st, 1996.

Its purpose was to make it very clear that, regardless of what each individual state decides, at a federal level the US believes that "marriage is the legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife, and a spouse is a husband or wife of the opposite sex."

Obviously the DOMA has upset gay people in the United States, and they have wanted the Act to be repealed (withdrawn) because they think it is unconstitutional (against the principles that America stands for).

When Obama was running for president in 2008, one of his election promises was to repeal the DOMA. However, after he was elected and became President, he seemed to change his mind and didn't repeal it after all.

In 2009, three members of the Democrat party introduced a bill called the "Respect for Marriage Act" which would replace the DOMA if it were to get repealed. The only difference under the RFMA would be that married same-sex couples would be able to get benefits; but it still would not require states to recognize same-sex marriages that were created in states other than their own.

So far, the DOMA has not been withdrawn, and this new RFMA bill has not been passed into law.

Why is the DOMA considered to be unconstitutional by some?

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