1996 – The Defense of Marriage Act Signed into Law
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into United States federal law on September 21, 1996 by President Bill Clinton. The DOMA granted legislative authority to each state government to decide whether or not to recognize same-sex marriage within their state. State governments were allowed, if they chose to do so, to ban same-sex marriages within their state. The DOMA also allowed each state to elect not to recognize the legitimacy of a same-sex marriage, even if the marriage had already been sanctioned by another state.
Section 3 of the DOMA went even further than defining authority of the states in the matter of same-sex marriage, however. Section 3 codified the definition of marriage as “the union between one man and one woman” into federal law. This meant that federal law would recognize only heterosexual marriages as meeting the legal definition of marriage.
The impact of this definition of marriage within federal law was far reaching, since this definition served as the legal definition of marriage for over a thousand federal laws and programs.
2011 – Changes to DOMA under the Obama Administration
In 2011, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder decided that this legal definition of marriage in Section 3 of the DOMA served primarily to impose inequality against a class of people. On February 23, 2011, the Attorney General ruled that Section 3 of the DOMA is unconstitutional and it would be untenable to continue to defend the law’s constitutionality in the courts. The Obama Administration directed the Justice Department to stop defending the law’s constitutionality in court from that day forward. However, this decision by the Attorney General did not serve to repeal the DOMA itself. Attorney General Holder said the Obama Administration would continue to enforce the Act itself, unless Congress repeals it or a court delivers a “definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.”
2013 – DOMA Section 3 ruled unconstitutional, and California’s Proposition 8 overturned by the Supreme Court
On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court made two landmark rulings regarding same-sex marriage. First, the court ruled officially that Section 3 of the DOMA was unconstitutional. President Obama said in a statement on the day of the Supreme Court’s ruling that Section 3 of the DOMA was “discrimination enshrined in law”.
Coupled with the Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 3 of the DOMA, the Supreme Court made an additional ruling on California’s same-sex marriage ban, known as Proposition 8. The State of California chose not to appeal an earlier decision to overturn Proposition 8, which meant that same-sex marriage would become legal in California in 2010. In lieu of the State of California’s appeal, a private party who were proponents of the law, sought the appeal instead. The Supreme Court decided that the private party did not have the legal right to defend the constitutionality of a state statute in court. On these grounds, the result of this ruling was the final overturn of Proposition 8 at the level of the Supreme Court. After a long series of case rulings and voter legislation that started in California in the year 2000 with Proposition 22, there was a final lifting of the same-sex marriage ban for the state of California.
After these two landmark Supreme Court decisions on June 26, 2013, the federal government now recognized same-sex marriages as equal to opposite-sex marriages.
However, the DOMA was not yet officially repealed by Congress, and states were still authorized to create their own legislation regarding same-sex marriage. Some states still held state-level bans on same-sex marriage.
2015 – Marriage Equality becomes Law
On June 26, 2015, in a landmark United States Supreme Court case, the Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The ruling requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions.
This ruling effectively repealed the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States, its possessions and territories.