Understanding the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”)

In the news: A federal Appeals Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional.

What does DOMA Do?

The bill is actually quite short. It defines two words:

  • Marriage: “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
  • Spouse: “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

In defining these terms, the bill restricts same-sex couples access to federal benefits

What benefits does it deny?

There are over a thousand different federal benefits restricted, but restrictions include:

  • Collection of spouse’s social security after his/her death
  • Filing joint tax returns
  • Sharing government health insurance with spouse (though insurance has been extended to same-sex couples’ children)

In what way is it discriminatory?

George Mason Law Professor Ilya Somin offers a helpful distinction between gender discrimination and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


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