What is DOMA? Defense of Marriage Act to Be Heard By Supreme Court

On Friday, the United States Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, and California's Proposition 8, which was a ballot measure approved by voters in 2008 that banned same-sex marriage in the state. In 2010, Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge, and this was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012. However, the court issued a stay on same-sex marriages pending further appeal. This will be that appeal.

In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman for all federal purposes. Under the law, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages for any legal purpose. As such, federal employees who are in same-sex marriages are barred from enjoying those federal marital benefits afforded to employees in straight marriages.

DOMA also grants states the authority to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, including those that have been performed in, and recognized by, other states. This means that if a gay couple marries in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, no other state can be compelled to recognize the marriage, unless that state's laws require it. Thus, if a gay married couple from Boston moves to Arizona, that state may refuse to recognize what is in Massachusetts, a legally binding document — in this case a marriage certificate.

This provision in DOMA is perhaps the most constitutionally dubious, as it allows states to circumvent the Full Faith and Credit Clause in Article IV of the Constitution, which states,

"Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof."

The Full Faith and Credit Clause was written to prevent states from discriminating against the holders of legal documentation issued in the other states. The idea behind it is that a legal certificates, contracts, and other officially recognized documents are as legitimate in one state as the next. If a couple gets married in Iowa and then moves to Indiana, there is no need to get married again because Indiana must recognize the marriage certificate in accordance with Article IV. 

However, DOMA gives states that do not want to recognize same-sex marriages a way out of the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Section 2 of the act reads,

"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."

In other words, through this law, Congress allows states to completely ignore this fundamental constitutional provision. Granted, the clause does say that "Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof," but it says nothing about having the power to tell states that they can ignore "Acts, Records and Proceedings" — only the way they will be verified. With the same-sex marriage licenses, verification is not the issue.

It was hard to imagine the Supreme Court passing up the opportunity to consider DOMA (and Prop 8) given the far-reaching implications they have for gay rights and the country as a whole. Given the current 5-4 conservative advantage on the court, this may not be a welcome development for LGBT advocates. 

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

MORE FROM

Grizzly bear protections in Yellowstone National park are ending

A final ruling by US government officials will strike the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of threatened species after its population increased to 700.

Another day, another off-camera White House press briefing

The move to scale back on-camera press briefings comes amid Trump's increasing unwillingness to interact with the press.

Minneapolis might get a $15 minimum wage, but restaurant workers aren't celebrating

Discord has been brewing in Minneapolis over whether tipped work will be counted toward a $15 minimum wage.

These abysmal new poll numbers for House health care bill don't bode well for Senate version

Only 34% of Republicans approve of the new proposed law.

'Pizzagate' shooter gets 4-year prison sentence, lawyers urged judge to deter vigilantism

Welch stormed a Washington, D.C., pizza place and shot off a firearm because of the internet.

American Health Care Act by the numbers: What to know about Senate Republicans' secret health plan

After drafting the ACA repeal and replace plan behind closed doors, the AHCA is out — and Senate Republican leaders are hoping to vote on it in a week.

Grizzly bear protections in Yellowstone National park are ending

A final ruling by US government officials will strike the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of threatened species after its population increased to 700.

Another day, another off-camera White House press briefing

The move to scale back on-camera press briefings comes amid Trump's increasing unwillingness to interact with the press.

Minneapolis might get a $15 minimum wage, but restaurant workers aren't celebrating

Discord has been brewing in Minneapolis over whether tipped work will be counted toward a $15 minimum wage.

These abysmal new poll numbers for House health care bill don't bode well for Senate version

Only 34% of Republicans approve of the new proposed law.

'Pizzagate' shooter gets 4-year prison sentence, lawyers urged judge to deter vigilantism

Welch stormed a Washington, D.C., pizza place and shot off a firearm because of the internet.

American Health Care Act by the numbers: What to know about Senate Republicans' secret health plan

After drafting the ACA repeal and replace plan behind closed doors, the AHCA is out — and Senate Republican leaders are hoping to vote on it in a week.