What is DOMA?

Wedding flowersDOMA stands for the Defense of Marriage Act. Before I explain it, I want to be clear that on this blog, we never take sides. This is going to be purely informational.

DOMA stands for the Defense of Marriage Act. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996. Basically, DOMA is a law that declares the non-recognition of same-sex marriage for all federal purposes. That means that many of the federal benefits opposite-sex couples enjoy from the federal government are not provided to same-sex couples.

DOMA is being challenged right now in the Supreme Court of the United States. Edith Windsor was married to a same-sex partner. They had been together for 40 years. Her partner died in 2009 giving all of her estate to Edith. If the couple had been an opposite-sex couple, the transfer of property by death to spouse would have been non-taxable. In other words, when a husband dies, he can give all of his property to his wife, tax-free. Because of DOMA, the IRS is not permitted to recognize the marriage of Edith to her same-sex partner even though they were legally married under state law. That means that when she received a large estate from her spouse, she had to pay estate taxes.

There are other examples. If a police officer dies, his or her spouse is entitled to federal benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program. However, if the officer had a same-sex marriage, his/her spouse would be entitled to nothing under this federal program.

DOMA is being hotly disputed on both sides. The Supreme Court is going to make its ruling on DOMA (or at least Section 3 of DOMA) by the end of June. It would appear that the issue is going to boil down to one of STATE’S rights, not individual rights. If that is the case, Justice Kennedy will probably write an opinion that argues that the federal government should not regulate marriage at all. In a way, that is not really a win for either side, it just leaves it up to the states to regulate marriage. But this is all just our educated guess.

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