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DOMA Zombies Surface in Congress

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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January 15, 2014

Since the Supreme Court’s landmark Windsor ruling last June striking down the core of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), the federal government has moved, with commendable speed, in a myriad of areas to extend recognition to the marriages of same-sex couples.

For example, in August, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced that legally married gay and lesbian couples would be recognized as married for federal tax purposes even if the couples live in or move to a state that does not (yet) recognize marriage for same-sex couples. This step and others like it provide fair and consistent treatment for all legally married couples across the country.

A recently introduced bill in Congress, deceptively titled the “State Marriage Defense Act”, would prevent the federal government from recognizing, for federal purposes, the legal marriages of same-sex couples if they live in or move to a state without the freedom to marry. The legislation ignores the reality that we’re a very mobile society, and sometimes people need to relocate from one state to another for work or to be closer to family. If a married same-sex couple had to relocate to a state that didn’t respect their marriage, the federal government would be forced to, in essence, dissolve this couple’s legal marriage.

This bill is just the latest attempt to get around the Windsor ruling by not so cleverly trying to reincarnate DOMA in a different guise. DOMA forced the federal government to disrespect the legal marriages of same-sex couples regardless of where they lived. This new bill, if enacted, would force the federal government to disrespect the legal marriages of same-sex couples in (currently) more than half the country.

It joins the so-called “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act,” an effort to enact a sweeping license to discriminate against legally married same-sex couples and their children, as the response by opponents of LGBT equality in Congress to the historic gains of 2013.

Rather than wasting time trying to, once again, enshrine anti-gay discrimination in federal law, Congress should build upon the momentum of the past year by passing the Respect for Marriage Act, which would provide married same-sex couples with certainty that the federal government will recognize their marriages for all federal purposes regardless of where in the country they live in or move to.

A married couple’s love and commitment to one another don’t dissolve when they cross state lines, and neither should federal recognition of their marriage.

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