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Defense of Marriage Act challenged in US Senate

As Illinois nears the two-month mark under the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, other states have taken up the same-sex union debate. The argument has long simmered at the federal level, too, and a recently proposed Senate bill challenges the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) from a slightly different angle.

The chief author of the Respect for Marriage Act argues that family law has always been a state issue. DoMA is the only exception.

Passed in 1996, DoMA defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. DoMA prevents same-sex couples from qualifying for federal benefits, and it allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex unions solemnized in other states. The law is one reason the Illinois Civil Union Act specifies that this state will recognize same-sex unions granted in other states.

President Obama supports the Senate measure, continuing what he himself calls his evolving views on same-sex marriage. This is not the first time the president has expressed opposition to DoMA, either. The administration stopped defending DoMA in court earlier this year.

Gay rights advocates have long said DoMA "has no place" in American society. At least one group that opposes gay marriage calls the president's move "political theatrics."

The bill boasts 27 co-sponsors in the Senate, a far cry from a filibuster-proof majority. Chances for passage are slim in the House of Representatives, as well. When the administration withdrew as defense counsel for DoMA challenges, the Speaker of the House took on the role.

The states' rights argument adds a new level of constitutional complexity to the marriage issue. Dinner table conversation, especially among family lawyers, should be lively as the bill makes it way through Congress.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Obama backs repeal of Defense of Marriage Act," Christine Mai-Duc, 07/20/2011

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