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Religious Tolerance logo

Attempt to repeal the federal "Defense of marriage act" (DOMA)

2010: Background. President Obama's comments.
2011-MAR: Most American adults want end to DOMA.
2011: DOMA repeal bill. Future committee meeting

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The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed by Congress in 1966 and signed into law by former president Bill Clinton. It states that even if same-sex couples are legally married in the District of Columbia or married in one of the states where same-sex marriage is allowed, or married in another country like Canada, they are to receive none of the 1,100 or so federal benefits, obligations and protections of marriage for themselves and their children that are given to opposite-sex couples and their children . It also provides that the marriage of a same-sex couple married in one state need not be recognized by any other state.

An attempt was made in 2009/2010 to repeal DOMA. However, it failed to get traction in Congress, largely because of other active attempts at that time to promote equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons diverted interest and resources.

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2010-JAN-28: President Obama's comments on DOMA:

At a town hall meeting in Tampa, FL a student asked the president whether he is as committed to repealing the Defense of Marriage Act as he is to repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that excludes openly gay persons from serving in the military. Referring to his State of the Union message to Congress, President Obama replied:

"...As I said last night, my belief is, is that a basic principle in our Constitution is that if you're obeying the law, if you're following the rules, that you should be treated the same, regardless of who you are. I think that principle applies to gay and lesbian couples."

He continued by referring to the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligation Act (S. 1102 and H.R. 2517), which were then active in Congress. The bill would extend benefits to same-sex couples equal to those currently given to opposite-sex partners of federal employees.

He said:

"I think it's the right thing to do. ... [I]t makes sense for us to take a leadership role in ensuring that people are treated the same. Look... regardless of your personal opinions, the notion that somebody who's working really hard for 30 years can't take their death benefits and transfer them to the person that they love the most in the world and who has supported them all their lives, that just doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem right." 1

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2011-MAR-15: Polls show most American adults oppose DOMA:

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted a poll for the Human Rights Campaign -- a LGBT positive group -- to determine public support for and opposition to DOMA. They found:

  • 51% of adults oppose DOMA; 34% support it. Also, 40% strongly oppose DOMA; 23% strongly favor it.
  • 45% of Republicans favor DOMA; 44% oppose.
  • 54% oppose the Republicans in the House attempting to defend DOMA in the courts; 32% support it.

When asked about individual federal benefits that DOMA currently prevents same-sex married couples from receiving:

  • 60% favored that they receive social security benefits; 34% opposed.
  • 58% favored receipt of federal employee health insurance; 36% opposed.
  • 64% favored protecting spouses from the loss of their homes due to a medical emergency or spousal death; 28% opposed.
  • 55% favored joint tax filing; 38% opposed.

The polling agency concluded:

"For voters, this is not only a matter of priorities, but it is also a matter of fairness. A law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal marriages is unnecessary, unfair and un-American." 5

N = 800; margin of error is ±3.5%

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2011-MAR-16: Democrats in Congress reintroduce DOMA repeal bill:

Democrats in the Senate and House reintroduced a "Respect for Marriage Act" that would repeal the 1996 federal DOMA law. The Respect for Marriage Act in the House is HR 1116; the Respect for Marriage Act of 2011 in the Senate is S 598.

The House bill's introduction states that the purpose of the bill is:

"To repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and ensure respect for State regulation of marriage."

The bill would repeal Section 1738C of title 28, United States Code. It would also amend Section 7 of Title 1 as follows:

Sec. 7. Marriage

`(a) For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual's marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State.

`(b) In this section, the term `State' means a State, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any other territory or possession of the United States.'

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The Senate bill is identical except for name.

The name probably sounds strange to many social and religious conservatives who view same-sex marriage (SSM) as attacking opposite-sex marriage, and view only the latter as valid. However the essence of the bill would be to respect the validity of same-sex marriages that have been legally entered into by loving, committed couples in the District of Columbia, in one of the American states where SSM has been made available, or in Canada and in most other foreign countries that have legalized SSM.

In the House, Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) joined with the four openly gay members of Congress, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), David Cicilline (D-RI), Barney Frank (D-MA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), plus more than 110 cosponsors to introduce the bill.

In the Senate, the bill will be promoted by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), with about 20 cosponsors.

The chance of the bill being passed in the Republican-dominated House is essentially zero. However, Democrats remain optimistic because a recent poll released on MAR-15 by the Human Rights Campaign and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research shows that slightly more than 54% of voters oppose DOMA, while only 34% approve it. Also, 54% of voters oppose the Republicans' decision to defend DOMA in the courts. However, voting on DOMA -- or on any bill that attempts equality for LGBTs -- raises ideological objections among essentially all Republican members of Congress. For example, only 8% of Republican members of Congress voted for a bill to set up a process to end the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy even though 83% of American adults and a sizeable majority of Republican voters supported repeal.

Barney Frank(D-MA) said the decision by Republicans to defend the DOMA law from constitutional attacks in the court was made to keep Republican members from having to make a potentially-damaging vote on the issue. He said at a press conference:

"The movement is clearly in our direction. Some of us were here a few years ago and Republicans ... were eager to give their members a chance to vote against same-sex marriage. Today, they are eager to protect their members [from voting] against same-sex marriage."

A centrist Democratic group Third Way circulated a memo in Congress suggesting that the bills' supporters emphasize love, commitment, and other family values that are found in loving, committed same-sex relationships. The memo says:

"Gay and lesbian couples may seem different from straight couples, but we all share similar values -- like the importance of family and helping out our neighbors; worries -- like making ends meet, or the possibility of losing a job; and hopes and dreams -- like finding that special someone to grow old with, and standing in front of friends and family to make a lifetime commitment."

Edie Windsor, 81, spoke at a press conference called by Democrats to announce the introduction of the repeal bill. She discussed her 44-year relationship with Thea Spyer. When Spyer died in 2008, Windsor was required to pay more than $360,000 in federal estate taxes solely because DOMA prevented the federal government from recognizing their legal marriage. She is now the plaintiff in an American Civil Liberties Union-backed lawsuit to have the law declared unconstitutional. She said:

"It looks like right now my legal fight is far from over. But ... I think our chances of defeating DOMA are becoming more and more possible." 2

Rep Nadler (D-NY) who reintroduced the bill in the House said:

"When Congress passed DOMA in 1996, it was not possible for a gay or lesbian couple to marry anywhere in the world. Today, tens of thousands of gay and lesbian couples are married. Far from harming the institution of marriage, these couples have embraced this time-honored tradition and the serious legal duties of civil marriage." 1

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2011-JUL-08: Senate Judiciary Committee hearings expected on DOMA repeal bill:

By this date, the "Respect for Marriage Act" had accumulated 17 co-sponsors in the Senate; all are Democrats. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee has called for a hearing on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has taken up the cause of repealing DOMA. She wrote:

"... The fact is that once our LGBT friends and family are legally able to marry here in New York [starting on 2011-JUL-24], the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will prohibit them from enjoying over 1,000 federal rights and privileges that are afforded straight married couples. That’s why earlier this year I joined Senator Feinstein and several of my Senate colleagues to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that will repeal the regressive and discriminatory DOMA. It’s also why I’ve joined with Democracy For America to launch a national online campaign to rally support for repeal. For only once every legally married couple in the United States is treated equally under federal law can we fulfill the true meaning of marriage equality." 3

The petition is available for signing at:

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Discussion of this topic continues

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Andrew Harmon, "Dems Take on DOMA," The Advocate, 2011-MAR-16, at:
  2. "Democrats aim for DOMA repeal," Huffington Post, 2011-MAR-16, at:
  3. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, "Our Next Marriage Equality Fight: Repealing DOMA," Pam's House Blend, 2011-JUN-25, at:
  4. "Bill Text: 112th Congress (2011-2012) H.R.1116.IH," Library of Congress, on 2011-AUG-01, at:
  5. Voters Find Republican Defense of DOMA Unfair and Unnecessary. Findings from a national survey," Greenberg quinlan Rosner Research, 2011-MAR-15, at:

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Site navigation:

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > SSM > SSM menu > DOMA > Repeal > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > SSM > SSM menu > DOMA > Repeal > here

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Copyright © 2010 & 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-JAN
Latest update: 2011-NOV-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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