1996 September 21

President Clinton Signs Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)


President Bill Clinton on this day signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law. The law banned same-sex married couples from being recognized as “spouses” for purposes of federal laws or receiving federal marriage benefits. It also held that states did not have to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Clinton had received strong political support from the lesbian and gay community in the 1992 presidential election, but he faced strong hostility on gay rights from Republicans, who attempted to use it as a “wedge” issue against him in the 1996 presidential election. Consequently, he signed the bill into law, and issued the statement below.

Years later, when the public mood shifted radically in favor of same-sex marriage, Bill Clinton too came to support it.

The Supreme Court declared a major provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional on June 26, 2013, in the case of Windsor v. United States, ruling that the federal government had to recognize legal same-sex marriages. In the year following the Windsor decision, a number of federal courts declared state prohibitions of same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, and another major Supreme Court case on this issue seemed inevitable.

On June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v. Hudson, the Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was constitutional in the entire United States under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Clinton’s statement on signing the law (excerpt): “I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages, and this legislation is consistent with that position. The act confirms the right of each State to determine its own policy with respect to same-gender marriage and clarifies for purposes of Federal law the operative meaning of the terms ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse.’ Throughout my life I have strenuously opposed discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans. I am signing into law H.R. 3396, a bill relating to same-gender marriage, but it is important to note what this legislation does and does not do.”

Read President Bill Clinton’s full statement on DOMA: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=51969

Read about the history of the GLBT revolution: Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle (2015)

Learn more at a timeline on same-sex marriage in America: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/history-and-timeline-of-marriage

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