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Respect for Marriage Act
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) singles out lawfully married same-sex couples for unequal treatment under federal law.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) singles out lawfully married same-sex couples for unequal treatment under federal law.  This law discriminates in two important ways.  First, Section 2 of DOMA purports to allow states to refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same-sex couples.  Second, Section 3 of the law carves all same-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, out of all federal statutes, regulations, and rulings applicable to all other married people—thereby denying them over 1100 federal benefits and protections. 

For example, legally married same-sex couples cannot:

  • File their taxes jointly
  • Take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse
  • Receive spousal, mother’s and father’s, or surviving spouse benefits under Social Security
  • Receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees

Since DOMA’s passage in 1996, five states have provided equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and two other jurisdictions recognize marriages of same-sex couples celebrated in other states and abroad.  Thousands of couples have married since Massachusetts issued marriage licenses in 2004.* Because of DOMA, the federal government is not honoring their equal obligations under state law.

What is the Respect for Marriage Act?

The Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) repeals DOMA and restores the rights of all lawfully married couples—including same-sex couples—to receive the benefits of marriage under federal law.  The bill also provides same-sex couples with certainty that federal benefits and protections would flow from a valid marriage celebrated in a state where such marriages are legal, even if a couple moves or travels to another state.

By repealing Section 2, the Respect for Marriage Act returns to traditional principles of comity and Full Faith and Credit.  Under RMA, same-sex couples and their families would be eligible for important federal benefits and protections such as family and medical leave or Social Security spousal and survivors’ benefits, but the federal government could not grant state-level rights.  The bill does not require states that have not yet enacted legal protections for same-sex couples to recognize a marriage.  Nor does it obligate any person, state, locality, or religious organization to celebrate or license a marriage between two persons of the same sex.  This legislation only requires the federal government to equally apply its policy of looking to the states in determining what legal relationships are eligible for federal benefits.

 

Americans Support Extending Protection to Same-Sex Couples

The system of federal benefits has always been based upon marriage.  Polling shows strong public support for extending federal benefits and protections to same-sex couples.  According to a December 2008 Newsweek/Princeton Research survey, more than seven in 10 Americans believe that same-sex couples should have inheritance rights, Social Security benefits, insurance benefits, and hospital visitation rights. The Respect for Marriage Act, in repealing DOMA, would provide to same-sex couples the full range of federal benefits and responsibilities already associated with long-term, committed relationships.

What is the Current Status of the Bill?

RMA was introduced in the 111th Congress by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House.

*Same-sex couples may marry in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire.  California recognizes (the over 18,000) same-sex marriages performed in California before the passage of Proposition 8.  New York recognizes same-sex marriages celebrated in other states, but does not grant civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex marriages celebrated in other states and has passed a marriage equality bill, which was signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty.  Pending congressional review, the law is scheduled to go into effect in early March 2010.

Related Pages

Learn More about the RMA

 
 
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