Down Goes DOMA: The Affect on the U.S. Military

By Linda Tran, Summer 2013 CLASV Student Advisor

When the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) became effective in 1996, it prevented the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples for the purpose of federal laws or programs.[1]  Same-sex spouses were denied federal benefits such as Social Security, veterans’ benefits, health insurance, and retirement savings.[2]  This part is also known as Section 3.[3]  The other part of DOMA, known as Section 2, allows states to refuse to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples from other states.[4]  Section 3 of DOMA was the part that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.[5]

The repeal of Section 3 should grant military families benefits such as military health insurance, increased base and housing allowances, relocation assistance, and surviving spousal benefits.[6]  In addition to those benefit specifically available to military families, the general federal benefits should also include social security benefits for widows and widowers, joint income tax filing and exemptions from federal estate taxes, and immigration protections for binational couples.[7]

For example, a married same-sex couple residing in Colorado were prepared to move out of the country to keep their family together due to DOMA’s restrictions on same-sex marriages. [8] One of them is an Irish citizen and is in the United States under a work visa which allows her to be with their three children.[9]  However after the repeal of Section 3, the spouse was granted a green card and the couple is one step closer to providing stability for their family.[10]

For now, the Department of Defense is working on issuing military ID cards to same-sex spouses and the estimated turnaround time for this process is about 6 – 12 weeks.[11]  The Pentagon has also issued a statement that reiterated that the Department will implement the benefit changes as soon as possible for same-sex spouses.[12]  It is also important to remember that marriage records are publically available and may affect those who wish to keep their sexual orientation private.

For additional information, please visit the following organization’s website:

  • OutServe-SLDN (http://www.sldn.org/) is an association of actively serving LGBT military personnel that is dedicated to “bringing about full LGBT equality to America’s military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”  The association also provides direct legal services to servicemembers and veterans regarding its mission.


[1] 1 U.S.C.A. § 7 (West 2013).

[2] GLAAD (July 7, 2013), http://www.glaad.org/marriage/doma.

[3] Defense of Marriage Act, Pub. L. No. 104–199, 110 Stat. 2419 (1996).

[4] 28 U.S.C.A. § 1738C (West 2013).

[5] U.S. v. Windsor, No. 12-307, 2013 WL 3196928, at 4 (S.Ct. June 26, 2013).

[6] GLAAD, supra.

[7] Id.

[8] Joey Bunch, Boulder lesbian couple gets green card after DOMA fails, The Denver Post (July 5, 2013, 11:52 PM), http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_23604690/lesbian-couple-from-boulder-get-green-card-after.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Amanda Lucidon, For some same-sex military spouses, the harm of DOMA is forever, (June 26, 2013, 10:16 AM), http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/06/26/18962888-for-some-same-sex-military-spouses-the-harm-of-doma-is-forever?lite.

[12] Id.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CLASV, George Mason University School of Law, George Mason University or any agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia.