2011 – S.598 / HR.1116

2011 – S.598 / HR.1116

Position Statement – 2011

 S.598 / H.R.1116
Respect for Marriage Act


The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) supports the Respect for Marriage Act which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act so as to ensure respect for State regulation of marriage.


The Defense of Marriage Act, more commonly known as DOMA, was enacted in 1996. Despite the long-standing national practice of applying principles of comity to recognize marital statuses validly entered into in other U.S. states and jurisdictions, Section 2 of DOMA allows states to refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same sex couples. Section 3 of DOMA denies legally married same-sex couples of valid civil marriages the same rights and remedies afforded under federal statues, regulations and rulings applicable to all other married couples.

It is estimated that there are over 1800 automatic rights and benefits granted to married couples.  For example, under DOMA, legally married same-sex couples are not permitted to file federal taxes jointly or enjoy other marital-related tax exemptions and exclusions, take federal unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse, receive spousal or surviving spouse benefits under Social Security, or access Violence Against Women Act or family-based immigration remedies based upon their marital status.  As federal employees, the lack of formal recognition of a same-sex couple’s marital status means that access to equal family health and pension benefits are denied.  Furthermore, spousal rights and protections with respect to retirement (and other benefit) plans under ERISA are not applicable to same-sex married couples.  There are also estate and immigration implications for these couples.  Because of this disparate treatment, same-sex married couples are forced to incur additional expenses to secure certain rights that are automatically provided to other married couples, if those rights can be secured al all.

A growing number of jurisdictions have allowed same-sex couples to legally marry, including Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and most recently New York.  In addition, there are approximately 18,000 same-sex couples in the state of California who were married prior to the passage of proposition 8 and remain legally married.

Respect for Marriage Act

The goal of the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) is to repeal DOMA and ensure respect for state regulated marriage. This bill was introduced on March 16, 2011, by Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and co-sponsored by several other senators, including Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Schumer (D-NY). This bill was re-introduced in the House by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) on March 16, 2011. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the RMA out of committee on November 10, 2011.

The Respect for Marriage Act seeks to repeal DOMA and restore the full panoply of federal rights to all lawfully married couples, including same-sex couples.  Under RMA, same sex couples who are legally married in any state or jurisdiction that provides marriage equality would also be able to have their marriage recognized in any other state or jurisdiction, thereby allowing same-sex couples to move between states without altering their marital status.  RMA does not obligate any person, state, locality or religious organization to issue licenses or celebrate same sex marriages, but simply requires the federal government to apply equally its tradition of deference to the states to determine which legal relationships are eligible for federal benefits.  Repeal of DOMA allows New York, and other states, to implement fully its legislative intent to provide equal application of the rights and privileges of marriage to all couples, regardless of gender.

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