The Defense of Marriage Act, also known as “DOMA”, is a federal statute that was passed in 1996. The act states that when it comes to federal laws and regulations, marriage is defined as between a man and a woman only. The effect of this law was to limit the ability of same-sex couples from receiving social security survivor benefits and prevent them from being able to file joint taxes together. The law also stated that other states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages in other states if their state did not recognize them.
The ruling focused on these denials of benefits to same-sex partners and involved a type of legal analysis in constitutional cases called the “rational basis” test. This is the lowest bar for a federal statute to hurdle, but even with the low bar the Defense of Marriage Act was still struck down by a unanimous three-panel appeals Court. The rational basis test, as discussed previously in this blog, involves the burden falling on the government to prove that the governmental action is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. This is the same bar Proposition 8 in California failed on hurdle earlier in the year.
The recent decision finding DOMA unconstitutional sets the stage for the United States Supreme Court to likely hear a same-sex marriage case around this time next year. The decision will have far-reaching implications and will affect the field of family law for years to come.