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Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)  
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The Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996, after having been passed by a vote of 342-67 in the House of Representatives and a vote of 84-14 in the Senate. A key Section of DOMA was struck down as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court on June 26, 2013. Other sections of the Act remain in force.

DOMA relieves states and other jurisdictions of the obligation to recognize same-sex marriages and marriage-like relationships authorized by other jurisdictions: "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."

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The Section that was struck down by the Supreme Court defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law: "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife."

The law, thus, does not prohibit same-sex marriage, but it authorizes states and territories to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships or civil unions that have been performed in other states and territories.

In addition, until nullified by the Supreme Court in 2013, Section 3 required that federal bureaus and agencies recognize only opposite-sex marriages. Hence, same-sex couples who had been legally married in jurisdictions that permit same-sex marriage were not recognized as married by the federal government and were thus not eligible for the myriad benefits showered on married couples by the federal government, including those related to taxes, Social Security, federal health insurance, employment benefits, immigration, survivorship, and inheritance, among many others.


The Defense of Marriage Act was authored by Georgia Representative Bob Barr, who introduced the bill on May 7, 1996. The bill was prompted by the Hawaii Supreme Court's ruling in the 1993 case Baehr v. Lewin that the state must show a compelling interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage. The fear was that should Hawaii or another state legalize same-sex marriage then other states and the federal government would be forced to recognize marriages that take place in those jurisdictions.

Under the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution, which requires states to recognize the "acts, records, and proceedings" of other states, a marriage performed in one state has traditionally been recognized in all other states even if the participants would not be eligible to marry in all other states. DOMA was passed in order to circumvent the obligation imposed on states by the full faith and credit clause.

All Republicans in Congress, except for Representative Steven Gunderson of Wisconsin, who had been outed on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congressman Bob Dornan of California in 1994, either voted for passage of DOMA or abstained. All 67 representatives who opposed the bill were Democrats except for Representative Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent.

All 14 senators who voted against the bill were Democrats, and included both senators from California (Boxer and Feinstein), Hawaii (Akaka and Inouye), Illinois (Mosely-Braun and Simon), and Massachusetts (Kennedy and Kerry), as well as Senators Feingold (Wisconsin), Kerrey (Nebraska), Moynihan (New York), Pell (Rhode Island), Robb (Virginia), and Wyden (Oregon).

In tandem with passing DOMA, the Senate considered the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would have prohibited discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the workplace and which failed by a single vote. The strategy apparently was to use ENDA as a means of granting cover to Democrats who wanted to go on record as opposed to discrimination even as most of them voted in favor of DOMA.

Some Democrats also claimed that they voted for DOMA as a means of forestalling the introduction of a Constitutional Amendment that would have prohibited same-sex marriage throughout the country. (Notwithstanding the passage of DOMA, Republicans introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment, also known as the Marriage Protection Amendment, to ban same-sex marriage in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006; it was endorsed by President George W. Bush in 2004, but nevertheless failed to receive the required 2/3 vote of both Houses of Congress in order to be submitted to the states for ratification.)

When President Clinton signed DOMA into law at midnight on September 20, 1996, he issued a statement affirming his opposition to discrimination and urged the next Congress to pass ENDA.

He added, "I also want to make clear to all that the enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination, violence or intimidation against any person on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination, violence and intimidation for that reason, as well as others, violate the principle of equal protection under the law and have no place in American society."

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Bob Barr, the author of the Defense of Marriage Act, has since repudiated it.
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