Reintroduced Respect for Marriage Act Would Fully Repeal Discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act

by Stephen Peters

WASHINGTON – Today, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded to the reintroduction of the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) by U.S. Senator Feinstein and U.S. Representatives Jerry Nadler and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. RMA would fully remove the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) from the books and establish a clear rule for the federal government that all married same-sex couples – regardless of what state they currently live in – have access to equal rights, benefits, and protections under federal law.

“From social security benefits to veterans benefits, DOMA continues to harm families across the country,” said David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director. “Every legally married couple - no matter where they live - should have access to the full federal benefits and protections they deserve. It’s far past time for DOMA to be completely repealed once and for all. We applaud Senator Feinstein and Representatives Nadler and Ros-Lehtinen for their tireless commitment to fully repealing this discriminatory and antiquated statute.”

Prior to the June 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Windsor v. United States, DOMA singled out lawfully married same-sex couples for unequal treatment. This law discriminates in two important ways. First, Section 2 of DOMA purports to allow states to refuse to recognize valid legal marriages of same-sex couples. Second, Section 3 of the law carves all legally married same-sex couples out of all federal statutes, regulations and rulings applicable to all other married people.

The Supreme 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 unaddressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Second, there is no uniform standard across the federal government for determining when a couple’s marriage is valid for federal purposes.  

Generally, 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 benefits, veterans benefits, and copyright ownership in which this issue remains unsettled and a resolution may require action by Congress.  Separate bills have been introduced to address each of these areas. For example, today, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy reintroduced the Copyright and Marriage Equality Act to change a discriminatory provision in the Copyright Act that grants rights to the surviving spouse of a copyright owner only if the marriage is recognized in the owner’s state of residence at the time he or she dies, thereby denying rights to surviving same-sex spouses in non-marriage equality states.

RMA repeals DOMA in its entirety and ensures that every legally 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. 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.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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