Respect for Marriage Act

H.R. 197; S. 29

The Problem

Prior to a June 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) singled out lawfully married same-sex couples for unequal treatment under federal law. This law discriminated 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 1,100 federal benefits and protections.
Fortunately, the Court held Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional in Windsor v. United States.  However, steps must still be taken to fully repeal this discriminatory law.  First, Section 2 of DOMA was not part of the Windsor case and remains the law of the land.  Second, there is no uniform standard across the federal government for determining whether a couple’s marriage is valid for federal purposes.  To the extent that it is able, the administration has advanced a broad implementation of the Windsor decision, ensuring that lawfully-married same-sex couples are fully recognized wherever they may live in areas like immigration, federal employee and service member spousal benefits and federal taxation.  However, there are a few areas, such as Social Security and veterans benefits, in which this issue remains unsettled and a resolution may require action by Congress.

What is the Respect for Marriage Act?

The Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) repeals DOMA in its entirety and ensures that every married couple has the certainty that every federal benefit and protection will flow from a marriage valid where it was performed, even if that 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.  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 ten Americans believe that same-sex couples should have inheritance rights, Social Security benefits, insurance benefits, and hospital visitation rights.  Additionally, in a March 2011 HRC/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey, a majority of Americans support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.  The Respect for Marriage Act would provide all married 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 114th Congress in the House of Representatives by Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on January 6, 2015.


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Related Pages

Learn More about RMA in the 114th Congress


Last Updated: March 11, 2015