Frequently Asked Questions: Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) | May 2013
DOMA at the Supreme Court
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In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court will issue a decision that could strike down the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing legally married same-sex couples.
Frequently asked questions
What is DOMA?
What is the status of DOMA right now?
What is Section Three of DOMA?
What are the legal arguments against Section Three of DOMA?
Who are the plaintiffs in the DOMA case?
If DOMA is ruled unconstitutional, will that make marriage equality legal throughout the country?
How does DOMA affect families?
How does DOMA affect binational families?
How does DOMA affect military families?
Why is it important to get rid of Section 3 of DOMA?
Why do opponents of marriage equality claim that DOMA is needed to protect children?
General DOMA FAQs
The so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," or DOMA, was passed in 1996 by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It has two main functions. The part that is being challenged is called "Section Three," which prevents the federal government from recognizing any marriages between gay or lesbian couples for the purpose of federal laws or programs, even if those couples are considered legally married by their home state. The other significant part makes it so that individual states do not legally have to acknowledge the relationships of gay and lesbian couples who were married in another state. Only the section that deals with federal recognition is being currently challenged in court.
Various federal courts have already ruled DOMA to be unconstitutional, but those decisions have been appealed, and now the Supreme Court will decide whether to confirm those decisions. The Supreme Court held a hearing on DOMA on March 27, and a decision is expected in June.
Section Three is the part that prevents the federal government from recognizing any marriages between gay or lesbian couples for the purpose of federal laws or programs, even if those couples are considered legally married by their home state.
The argument is that DOMA, by singling out certain types of legal marriages for unequal treatment, violates the constitution's "equal protection" promise.
Edith Windsor is leading the case against the United States after she was forced to pay over $363,000 in estate taxes after her same-sex spouse died. The federal government did not recognize her marriage, and this outcome was the result.
No. It will mean the federal government has to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples. Such a ruling will not require any state that to legalize marriage equality that has not already done so.
DOMA has major effects on families concerning a number of different federal rights which provide necessary marital benefits. Some areas affected include, military family benefits, social security benefits, multiple areas of tax categories, hospital visitation rights, and healthcare benefits. These are just a few of the numerous marital benefits neglected to families under DOMA.
Because the federal government does not recognize benefits under DOMA, binational couples are denied the ability to sponsor United States residency to their partners.
Despite the fact that a military family may live in a state with marriage equality, they will be denied these benefits until DOMA is repealed. These well-earned benefits include, military health insurance, increased base and housing allowances, relocation assistance, and surviving spousal benefits.
- Health insurance and pension protections for federal employees' spouses
- Social security benefits for widows and widowers
- Support and benefits for military spouses
- Joint income tax filing and exemption from federal estate taxes
- Immigration protections for binational couples
The repeal of section 3 of DOMA would create huge changes for same-sex couples in the United States. This would relieve couples of many burdens all couples should not have to worry about. This step in history would mean a step in the right direction for the United States.
Strengthen it. Expanding the federal protections of marriage to all married loving, committed couples and their families will allow them to take better care of each other and be responsible for each other. Stronger families lead to stronger communities.
Anti-gay activists are constantly implying that children of straight parents are better off than children of gay or lesbian parents. Usually they'll claim that "studies show children do best with a mother and a father" – but when they say this, they are citing studies that compared children of two-parent homes to children of single-parent homes. Those studies did NOT compare children of spouses of straight couples to children of gay and lesbian couples. All of the US's leading mainstream medical, educational and psychological associations overwhelmingly agree that children of gay and lesbian couples fare just as well as children of straight couples.
For example; The American Academy of Pediatrics says: "[S]cientific literature demonstrates" that same-sex couple children "fare as well." The American Psychiatric Association says: "Research indicates that optimal development for children is based not on the sexual orientation of the parents." The American Psychological Association says: "There is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation." The American Psychoanalytic Association says: "Gay and lesbian individuals and couples are capable of meeting the best interest of the child." The Child Welfare League of America says: "Any attempt to preclude or prevent gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals or couples from parenting, based solely on their sexual orientation, is not in the best interest of children."
And there is a mountain of evidence to back those groups up.
A study published in 2010 in the journal Demography concludes that children being raised by gay and lesbian couples have almost exactly the same educational achievement as children raised by married heterosexual couples. Data released in 2010 from the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Studyfound that "[c]ompared to the traditionally reared teens, adolescents with lesbian parents rated significantly higher in social, academic and total competence," and that "teens with lesbian parents also rated significantly lower when it came to social problems, rule-breaking and aggressive behavior than teens raised in more traditional families."
This isn't just a recent development, either. A report published in the American Sociological Reviewback in 2001 examined 21 studies which "almost uniformly (found) no notable differences between children reared by heterosexual parents and those reared by lesbian and gay parents..." And in a study presented at the 1997 national meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development, research psychologist Charlotte Patterson said, "When you look at kids with standard psychological assessments, you can't tell who has a lesbian parent and who has a heterosexual parent."