Same-Sex Marriage and Defense of Marriage Act

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Over the years, the institution of marriage in the United States has experienced a number of changes. One element that has attracted a lot of controversy is same-sex marriages (Isenberg par. 2). This debate started in the 1970’s when most states did not recognize couples in same-sex relationships. Such couples have struggled to be accepted and recognized in the United States for several years. This made it hard to formalize such unions through marriage because it would be illegal. A number of Americans choose to formalize their relationships in other countries or states that recognize their relationships (Cahill 60).

Over the years, human rights activists have made efforts to champion equality, fair treatment, and recognition of people in same-sex relationships. They argue that people in gay relationships should be accorded equal rights and respect as everyone else by removing restrictions on marriages to heterosexual couples (Cahill 72). Their efforts have seen more than 30 states developing legislation to recognize and protect people in same-sex relationships, as well as allowing them to formalize their unions through marriage (Viser and Levenson par. 2). Legislation, such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has attracted a lot of controversy with regard to protecting the rights of people in same-sex marriages.

United States v. Windsor

This is one of the most famous civil rights cases in the history of the United States. This case was filed in 2010 by Edith Windsor against the Federal government for what she described as differential treatment of couples in same-sex marriages (Kennedy 871). The main motivation for filing the case was to compel the federal government into changing their definition of marriage, which Windsor felt was unconstitutional.

In DOMA, the Federal government had recognized marriage as a union between heterosexual couples. Windsor wanted the clause to be changed because she could not receive tax exemption as a surviving couple for the estate owned by her then deceased partner, Thea Spyer (Kennedy 871). Since they were legally married in Canada, it was hard for Windsor to be exempted from paying estate taxes, as the constitution did not recognize same-sex marriages. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Windsor, as it recognized that the third section of DOMA had violated the constitution with regard to the correct definition of marriage (Kennedy 873).

The ruling meant that the plaintiff would receive her tax refund, together with its interests. Legal experts argue that the ruling made during the case has played a crucial role in the acceptance of same-sex marriages in the United States (Kennedy 874).

Since the ruling, couples in same-sex unions begun receiving equal benefits as their counterparts in heterosexual marriages. This happened after the federal government followed the directions given in the ruling to recognize couples in same-sex marriages (Kennedy 877). However, such couples would only be recognized if their marriage was formalized in a state that recognized same-sex marriages. Since the landmark ruling, couples in same-sex marriages continue to receive numerous benefits that include social security, exemption from certain federal taxes, medical cover, employment opportunities, and immigration permits, among others (Kennedy 877).

Human rights activists argue that the ruling made in this case will play a crucial role in influencing the states that are yet to legalize same-sex marriages (Isenberg par. 6).

Implications of this case

According to legal experts, this case will have a number of implications for the states that currently approve same-sex marriages. First, these states will have economic benefits due to increased tax revenue. This case gave couples in same-sex relationships the right to enjoy federal benefits provided to heterosexual couples. This means that states that already recognize same-sex marriages will have more couples filing their tax returns (Kennedy 900).

In addition, marriage fees will also help to boost the revenue of the states. Another economic benefit will come from the ability of couples in same-sex marriages to acquire the property. Laws on intellectual property rights will also encourage gay couples to have more economic ventures, such as writing books about their lifestyles (Cahill 100). The states will also find the need to develop legislation to provide more protection to same-sex couples, especially those that come from jurisdictions that do not recognize their union (Viser and Levenson par. 5). However, this case will also have negative economic implications for states that recognize same-sex marriages due to an increase in the amount of money set aside to provide benefits such as health cover and social security for couples (Kennedy 904).

Controversy over DOMA

DOMA is one of the most the most important legislation in the United States. Since its enactment in 1996, DOMA has attracted a lot of controversy with regard to the definition of marriage and recognizing those in same-sex marriages (Coscarelli par. 4). Although the initial clauses in the act did not recognize couples in same-sex marriages, a number of civil rights cases such as the United States v. Windsor and Goodridge v. The Department of Public Health has influenced a number of changes towards recognition of same-sex marriages (Kennedy 872).

For example, section 2 of the act reads that all states have the right to exercise their freedom and independence with regard to the recognition of same-sex marriages. The act also argues that independent states should stick to their own policies about same-sex marriages regardless of what other states are doing about the same (Kennedy 875). For example, states such as Missouri and the District of Columbia are yet to legalize same-sex unions but recognize couples legally married under other jurisdictions. The act promotes the independence of the states in terms of allowing them to make laws about same-sex marriages with influences from relationships shared with other states (Kennedy 899).

Legal experts argue that the controversy surrounding DOMA since its enactment has managed to bring out some of the worst experiences for lawmakers in the United States. However, it is important to recognize that all the manner of controversies associated with DOMA were hard to avoid or prevent because same-sex marriages did not exist in the country until 2004, which was eight years after the enactment of the act (Coscarelli par. 6).


The issue of same-sex marriages in the United States has been a major issue of concern for several years. Couples in heterosexual marriages enjoyed federal benefits at the expense of their counterparts for so long, yet all Americans deserved to have equal rights. This phenomenon was necessitated by factors such as societal values, poor legislation, and stigmatization of couples in same-sex relationships. However, the situation has improved over the last decade, as numerous cases, coupled with the efforts of civil rights activists, have influenced the government in recognizing same-sex marriages.

Couples in same-sex unions now receive full federal benefits, just like their counterparts in heterosexual marriages. Through DOMA, the federal government has allowed states to exercise their freedom in terms of their choice on whether to recognize same-sex marriages. The government should do everything possible and ensure that all Americans are supported and protected by the constitution regardless of their sexual orientation.

Works Cited

Cahill, Sean. Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: Focus on the Facts. New York: Lexington Books, 2008. Print.

Coscarelli, Joe. Gay-Marriage Pioneers Recall “Huge Journey”. 2013. Web.

Isenberg, Sasha. Why a Gay-Marriage Court Ruling is a Hit at Straight Weddings. 2012. Web.

Kennedy, David. The American Spirit: United States History as Seen by Contemporaries. New York: Cengage Learning, 2015. Print.

Viser, Matt, and M. Levenson. Mass Helped Propel Marriage Equality Change. 2013. Web.

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1. LawBirdie. "Same-Sex Marriage and Defense of Marriage Act." March 23, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Same-Sex Marriage and Defense of Marriage Act." March 23, 2023.