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November 01, 2011

ABA Supports Repeal of Defense of Marriage Act; Bill Clears Committee

The ABA expressed strong support this month for S. 598, the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved by a 10-8 vote Nov. 10 in an effort to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA, enacted in 1996, defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” This definition of marital status is used to determine eligibility for federal rights or benefits in over 1,000 federal statutory provisions, including family medical leave, health care and Social Security survivor benefits.

Since DOMA was enacted, however, six states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. S. 598, according to the ABA, would protect state regulation of marriage by making clear that all marriages validly licensed and recognized by the various states must be recognized by the federal government as well.

In a Nov. 2 letter to the committee, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman noted the ABA’s long history of supporting the authority conferred upon the states under the federal system to determine a person’s marital status. He cited ABA policy adopted in 2009 that urges Congress to repeal DOMA provisions that deny federal benefits to same-sex couples and their families.

“After many years of legal confusion and complications created by DOMA, the Respect for Marriage Act would provide a much needed level of clarity that would allow lawyers to better serve their clients and communities,” Susman wrote.

The legislation also would repeal provisions that absolve states from respecting same-sex marriages under the laws of other states.

“DOMA has created a tier of second-class families who are not treated equally under the law. This runs counter to the values upon which America was founded,” according to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick  J. Leahy (D-Vt.), a cosponsor of the bill with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and 29 other senators.

H.R. 1116, similar legislation sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and more than 130 cosponsors, is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

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