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The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Call for a Constitutional Amendment

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

In 1996, the United States Congress passes the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which set forth the definition of marriage under federal law and enabled states to decline to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The latter challenging claims made pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

Defense of Marriage Act History

Under DOMA, marriage was defined as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, with the word “spouse” referring only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

The Full Faith and Credit Clause initially provided that “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof”.

The effects of DOMA resulted in it being amended to include the provision that “No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship”.

Ultimately, this lead to affirming that each US state was able to make its own decision whether or not it would accept or reject same-sex marriages created in other jurisdictions.

DOMA was later struck down by the US Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all US states.