On June 24, 2011, New York passed state legislation to approve the marriage of same-sex couples. The new law made New York the sixth of five states that had already legalized marriage for gay couples. The other states to make same-sex marriages valid include Vermont, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.
Only these 6 states out of 50 states will provide same-sex couples with marriage licenses, while other states have created special provisions, such as domestic partnership or foreign state credits, to recognize the validity of same-sex unions. Although many LGBT advocates consider New York’s recent law a victory for same-sex couples nationwide, the reality is that many same-sex marriages are still not treated equal in the eyes of the law.
In fact, the federal government still refuses to recognize same-sex marriages as legal marriages, since these marriages lack a husband and a wife like heterosexual marriages. In 1996, the federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is a federal law that allows states to continue to refuse to recognize the same sex marriages of the six states that allow them.
In other words, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, and the remainder of the 44 states that have not legalized same sex marriages can deny the validity of a same-sex marriage approved in New York. Hence, these other states may deny state marriage benefits to same sex couples based on the provisions of the federal law.
Conversely, a heterosexual marriage must legally be recognized in all of the 50 states, regardless of where the couple marries. This recognition occurs automatically because of the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution.
According to the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution, each state must give “full faith and credit” to the “public acts” and “judicial proceedings” in every other state, including marriages. Normally, this would mean that a legally valid marriage in one state must be recognized in another state.
However, the DOMA directly conflicts with the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, because it provides states with the power not to honor same-sex marriage proceedings through its definition of marriage. Under DOMA, a valid marriage can only be defined as a union between a husband and a wife.
Additionally, DOMA says that marriage is not a fundamental right for spouses who are not husband and wife, because such unions are not considered valid marriages by DOMA standards. Therefore, DOMA functions as a law that disqualifies same-sex married couples from federal benefits, because it invalidates their marriage at a federal level.
The ramifications of DOMA have rendered same-sex marriages merely “recognition ceremonies,” because gay marriages still cannot perform all the fiscal benefits of heterosexual couples. Gay couples cannot file joint tax returns as spouses, file joint bankruptcy, sponsor their spouses’ Greencard applications, nor collect Social Security death benefits as spouses.
As a result, President Obama proposed the Respect for Marriage Act of 2011 to amend the definition of spouse under the DOMA. President Obama would like the word spouse to apply to all sexes, whether of the same sex or opposite sex. In addition, he stated that the DOMA law was unconstitutional, because of its conflicts with the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution.
On the other hand, supporters of the DOMA law believe that no matter what, the definition of marriage will always signify a union between a husband and a wife. As a result, the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution is not violated by DOMA, because same-sex marriages are not considered authentic marriages under the law.
The question of what defines marriage divides not only Congress and the President, but also the nation at large. These divisions continue to persist as the meaning of marriage has traditionally been defined by one’s religious denomination with society attempting to follow religious precedents.
Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act has not yet been repealed or amended, despite increased state acceptance of same-sex marriages. In turn, many gay couples remain married but not fully married to the finances of their spouse according to the regulations of federal law.
104th Congress.”Defense of Marriage Act,”www.loc.gov [Library of Congress].
112th Congress.”Respect for Marriage Act of 2011,” www.loc.gov [Library of Congress].
Michael Barbaro and Nicholas Confessore. “New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage, Becoming the Largest State to Pass Law, ” NYTimes.com.
Tina Susman. ” Hand in hand, gay couples wed in New York,” LATimes.com.