The Republican Congress and the Democratic White House found a rare patch of political common ground on the cusp of the November election with enactment of the Defense of Marriage Act.

President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the first federal law to define marriage officially as a "union between one man and one woman." The legislation comes as the issue of same-sex marriage continues to be debated in many sectors of society, from the church to the corporate world.

Under DOMA, a bill actively pushed by a coalition of pro-family groups led by the Family Research Council (FRC), homosexual couples would be denied spousal benefits from such federal programs as social security or Medicare. The law also holds that no state can be required to recognize the validity of a same-sex marriage that may have been sanctioned in another state.

A pending Hawaii court case had pro-DOMA forces concerned that a ruling on the island could force other states to accept homosexual unions (ct, March 4, 1996, p. 64). Under the Constitution's "full faith and credit" provision, states are required to recognize "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings" from other states.

DEFENSIVE MEASURE: DOMA moved to a legislative fast track in the waning days of the Republican-controlled congressional session. The measure passed the Senate in an 85-to-14 vote on September 10. At the same time, the Senate voted 50 to 49 against an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) amendment introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) that would have banned workplace discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians. DOMA passed the House on July 12 by a 342-to-67 margin.

As its title suggests, DOMA is largely a defensive measure, aimed at slowing what pro-family ...

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Congress: Clinton Signs Law Backing Heterosexual Marriage
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October 28, 1996

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