Respect for Marriage Act
The so-called Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996, mandates unequal treatment of legally married same-sex couples, selectively depriving them of the 1,138+ protections and responsibilities that marriage triggers at the federal level. DOMA stigmatizes people by dividing married Americans into two classes. Unlike different-sex married couples, same-sex married couples are denied such important protections as Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights, family and medical leave, and the ability to pool resources as a family without unfair taxation.
Overturning federal marriage discrimination is a key part of Freedom to Marry’s three-track Roadmap to Victory, which also includes winning marriage in more states and growing and diversifying the majority for marriage.
The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced on March 16, 2011 in the Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and in the House by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The bill would repeal DOMA, and return the federal government to its longstanding practice of honoring marriage without a “gay exception.”
The first ever congressional hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act was held on July 20, 2011 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Witnesses who delivered testimony at the hearing included Freedom to Marry’s President Evan Wolfson and Ron Wallen, a widower from California who spoke eloquently about how he’s likely to lose the home he shared with Tom, his recently deceased partner of 58 years. DOMA prevents Ron from collecting the Social Security survivor benefits accrued by Tom even though they were married in 2008.
Watch Evan Wolfson’s testimony
Freedom to Marry set three goals for our work with the White House:
- To persuade the Obama Administration to apply heightened scrutiny to sexual orientation discrimination, and to stop defend DOMA in court, because it is unconstitutional. (Goal Met 2/23/11)
- To encourage the President to endorse the Respect for Marriage Act. (Goal Met 7/19/11)
- To help the President complete his journey and join the majority of Americans in supporting the freedom to marry. (Goal Met 5/9/12)
Through public encouragement, grassroots advocacy, and lobbying, we have succeeded in all three objectives.
In a statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, President Obama endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act on July 19, 2011. The Obama Administration instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending DOMA in court in February 2011 and called for heightened scrutiny – a presumption that sexual orientation discrimination is unconstitutional, rather than okay -- in federal lawsuits.
On our third objective, Freedom to Marry worked hard to encourage President Obama to complete his journey and join the majority of Americans in favor of the freedom to marry. In March 2011, Freedom to Marry launched its Say, “I Do” campaign with an Open Letter signed by civil rights leaders, tech entrepreneurs, pro athletes, and Hollywood celebrities signed by more than 120,000 Americans. On May 9, 2012, President Obama became the first sitting president to public announce his support for the freedom to marr
Click here for more information on Freedom to Marry’s Federal Program.
Chris Geidner, Senior Political Writer for Metro Weekly, has written a series of articles tracing the history, circumstances, and politics that lead to the passage of DOMA.