Defense of Marriage Act

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The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (H.R. 3396) is a 1996 U.S. law that effectively bans same-sex marriage at the federal level by stating that the federal government will only recognize opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of public policy. This means that even if a same-sex couple is legally married in a particular state, they cannot receive any federal spousal benefits such as Social Security. DOMA also allows individual states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.


The bill was introduced on May 7, 1996 by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) in response to court cases in Hawaii, and was passed by overwhelming margins in both houses and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996. [1] Specifically, the bill states:

  1. No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) need recognize a marriage between persons of the same sex, even if the marriage was concluded or recognized in another state.
  2. The Federal Government may not recognize same-sex or polygamous marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states.


Rep. Steven Gunderson (R-Wis.), a homosexual, was the lone Republican to oppose the bill, and was not a candidate for reelection in 1996. [2]

House record vote:
Defense of Marriage Act

July 12, 1996
Passed, 342-67, view details
Dem: 118-65 in favor, GOP: 224-1 in favor, Ind: 0-1 opposed


Introduced into the Senate[3] by Don Nickles (R-Okla.), Republicans voted unanimously for the bill and fourteen Democrats opposed it. The senators who opposed the bill were Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), John Kerry(D-Mass.), Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.), Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), Chuck Robb (D-Va.), Paul Simon (D-Ill.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), all of who were heterosexuals.[4]

Senate record vote:
Defense of Marriage Act

September 10, 1996
Passed, 85-14, view details
Dem: 32-14 in favor, GOP: 53-0 in favor, Ind: 0-0


Some attorneys believe DOMA may be unconstitutional because it goes beyond the powers granted to Congress by the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. This clause grants Congress the authority to "prescribe...the Effect" which the laws of one state have in another. [5]

Although Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law during his re-election campaign in 1996 and vehemently opposed same-sex marriage, he did not mention the law (or the controversy surrounding it) in his 2004 memoir, My Life.[6] In a June 1996 interview in the gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate, and later reported in other mainstream publications including the Buffalo News, Clinton said "I remain opposed to same-sex marriage. I believe marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. This has been my long-standing position, and it is not being reviewed or reconsidered." [7]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. THOMAS page on DOMA, THOMAS.
  2. Washington Post page on Steven Gunderson, The Washington Post.
  3. Senate of the United States. “Defense of Marriage Act. S.1999. 104th Congress, July 29, 1996. (PDF)" Library of Congress Web, accessed March 25, 2013
  4. THOMAS page on DOMA, THOMAS.
  5. Wikipedia Page on DOMA,Wikipedia.
  6. My Life, Randomhouse.
  7. Clinton Opposes Same-Sex Marriage,Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.

External resources

Wikipedia also has an article on Defense of Marriage Act. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.

External articles