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Monday, March 11, 2013

Same-Sex Marriages: Legal Issues

Alison M. Smith
Legislative Attorney

The recognition of same-sex marriages generates debate on both the federal and state levels. Either legislatively or judicially, same-sex marriage is legal in seven states. Other states allow civil unions or domestic partnerships, which may provide similar state-level rights and/or benefits. Many states have statutes or constitutional amendments limiting marriage to one man and one woman. These state-level variations raise questions about the validity of such unions outside the contracted jurisdiction and have bearing on the distribution of federal benefits.

The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to address the constitutionality of state and federal laws that limit the definition of “marriage” to heterosexual couples. The first case, United States v. Windsor, involves questions regarding Section 3 of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), P.L. 104-199, which created a federal definition of “marriage” as the union of one man and one woman. The second case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, presents a similar challenge to California’s Proposition 8, which limited the validity and recognition of “marriages” to heterosexual couples. (For a detailed analysis of these cases, see CRS Report R42976, Same-Sex Marriage and the Supreme Court: United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, by Jody Feder and Alissa M. Dolan.) In both cases, the plaintiffs allege that the relevant laws violate the Constitution’s equal protection clauses.

This report discusses DOMA and legal challenges to it. It reviews legal principles applied to determine the validity of a marriage contracted in another state and surveys the various approaches employed by states to address same-sex marriage. It also examines previous Congressional resolutions proposing a constitutional amendment and limiting federal courts’ jurisdiction to hear or determine any question pertaining to the interpretation of DOMA.

Date of Report: February 28, 2013
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: RL31994
Price: $29.95

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