Friday, April 17, 2009

Partial Repeal of DOMA Bill Could Come In Several Months

The repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is on many marriage equality supporters' minds, but it may not come in one fell swoop. With the advances made in Vermont, Iowa and Washington DC, and with NY Gov. David Paterson's recent submission of a same-sex marriage bill, discussions at the capitol of repealing DOMA have heated up.

Congressional leaders have been discussing legislation with two goals in mind:
  1. Repeal section 3 of DOMA that restricts the federal government's ability to recognize any sort of same-sex relationship, thus barring federal benefits.
  2. Provide a way for same-sex couples living in states that do not allow them to marry legally to access the same federal benefits afforded to heterosexual spouses.
As a result, if a same-sex couple's relationship is recognized by a state, then that will open the door for the federal government to confer benefits, protections and liabilities of marriage on that relationship.

This new legislation would keep section 2 of DOMA in place which will allow individual states to continue to decide for themselves whether or not to recognize same-sex relationships.

The question arises - what kind of state-defined relationships would the federal government recognize? Marriage only? Or civil unions and domestic partnerships, too?

"The idea is to recognize a relationship or marriage that is recognized by a state," Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union told The Advocate. "So if a couple is legally recognized in any state," he added, "you would be entitled to the federal benefits and protections and liabilities of marriage."

But what if a couple moves to another state? Or what about those couples who can't afford to move to state that will recognize them for either economical or personal reasons?

One solution would be to have criteria that the couple would need to meet in order to receive federal benefits. However, this could prove controversial and more create complications than the legislators want to address, and with more and more states recognizing several types of unions, this option isn't being seriously considered. So the legislators are still brainstorming ways to still recognize couples who move out of a state that recognizes them and those who can't move to one that will.

The exact timing of when the bill may be introduced is not known, but a growing consensus is that it would be before the end of the year and probably within the next several months.

So who are these LGBT allies in Congress? The Advocate reports that they are senators Christopher Dodd, Russ Feingold, and Chuck Schumer, and representatives Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank, Jerrold Nadler, and Jared Polis.

However, Nancy Pelosi told the Bay Area Reporter that it was not a priority. It seems the capitol needs to get on the same page. And I would like to suggest the hope on the one that says "REPEAL!"


  1. I'm confused, I thought DOMA is to keep the federal govt from recognizing as well as states that don't want same-sex marriage. If you repeal section 3, what is left of DOMA?

  2. DOMA as it stands now protects both the federal government from recognizing same-sex relationships as well as giving states the option not to as well. With this new legislation, it would allow the federal government to give federal benefits to couples living in states that choose to recognize them. HOWEVER, DOMA would still protect the states' right to NOT recognize same-sex unions. In other words, a true federation.