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Religious Tolerance logo

Attempts to have the federal "Defense of
marriage act" (DOMA) declared unconstitutional


2010 to now: The Edith Windsor v.
United States
lawsuit in NY State.
The U.S. Supreme Court found federal
DOMA law's Section 3 unconstitutional.

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The acronyms:

"DOMA" refers to the Defense of Marriage Act;
"SSM" refers to same-sex marriage;
"SCOTUS" refers to the Supreme Court of the United States.

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For centuries in the U.S., individual states have defined who is eligible to marry, issued marriage licenses, and recorded the resultant marriages. The laws in various states have not always been fair and just. Before the SCOTUS ruling in 1967 that legalized interracial marriage across the U.S., laws in 16 contiguous south eastern states would not allow two persons of different races to marry. Those couples who were able to legally marry could always rely on the federal government to recognize their marriages, and give them the same same federal rights, privileges and protections for themselves and their children.

In 1996, there was a possibility that Hawaiian courts might allow loving, committed same-sex couples in that state to marry. This was a major concern to most members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican. It was at a time when public opposition to same-sex marriage (SSM) was above 65% and support was only about 30%. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and it was signed into law by President Clinton.

Section 3 of that act ordered the federal government to ignore any legal marriages solemnized in any state if the couple was of the same gender. Under this act, the federal government was required to treat married same-sex couples as legal strangers -- as if they were roommates merely sharing accomodation. This has denied spouses medical benefits, has required some to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars inheritance taxes, denied their right to be involved in medical decisions involving their spouse, etc. It denied protections to their children.

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Edith Windsor's case at the District Court, Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court:

She inherited the family home from her deceased wife. Even though the couple had been legally married in Canada and their marriage was recognized in New York State, the federal DOMA law required that the federal government view the couple as legal strangers. Thus, Ms. Windsor was required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in inheritance taxes, as if she had inherited her family home from a stranger.

The case involving Edith Windsor of New York State is one of about 12 recent cases attempting to have DOMA declared unconstitutional. As of early 2013, all of the recent cases that have been decided have found DOMA itself -- or at least its Section 3 -- to be unconstitutional.

Edith Windsor also won her case and was awarded U.S. $353,053 plus interest and additional costs allowed by law.

An appeal to the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals was inevitable. On 2012-OCT-18, that court also upheld the lower court ruling: that DOMA is unconstitutional.

The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments were held on 2013-MAR-27. The court issued its ruling on 2013-JUN-26, stating that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. This was the section that cut same-sex married couples off from about 1,138 federal goverment programs of benefits, and protections for them and their children. Other sections of DOMA -- including the one that says that a state does not have to recognize a marriage solemnized and recorded in another state -- remain intact.

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Site navigation:

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > SSM > SSM menu > DOMA > Declared unconstitutional > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > SSM > SSM menu > DOMA > Declared unconstitutional > here

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Copyright © 2011 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-JUN
Latest update: 2013-DEC-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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