Same-Sex Marriage: A Legal Background After 'United States v. Windsor' [April 17, 2014]   [open pdf - 245KB]

"The issue of same-sex marriage generates debate on both the federal and state levels. Either legislatively or judicially, same-sex marriage is legal in more than a dozen states. Conversely, many states have statutes and/or constitutional amendments limiting marriage to the union of 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 state and/or federal benefits. As federal agencies grappled with the interplay of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the distribution of federal marriage-based benefits, questions arose regarding DOMA's constitutionality and the appropriate standard (strict, intermediate, or rational basis) of review to apply to the statute. In 'United States v. Windsor,' a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court held that Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage, violated due process and equal protection principles. As such, federal statutes that refer to a marriage and/or spouse for federal purposes should be interpreted as applying equally to legally married same-sex couples recognized by the state. However, the Court left unanswered questions such as (1) whether samesex couples have a fundamental right to marry and (2) whether state bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional. In the aftermath of the 'Windsor' decision, lower courts have begun to address the constitutionality of state statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. To date, federal district courts in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, and Texas have broadly interpreted 'Windsor' and struck down provisions which prohibit same-sex marriages within their borders."

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CRS Report for Congress, R43481
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