The NAE and several religious groups filed an amici brief supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In July 2010, a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled Section 3 of the law unconstitutional, suggesting that Congress does not have the right to define what “marriage” means under federal law.

The Defense of Marriage Act requires federal agencies to define “marriage” and “spouse” when used in federal laws and regulations “as applying only to the marital union between one man and one woman.” If the federal judge’s ruling is upheld, the United States would effectively recognize same-sex marriage for purposes of administering federal benefits. Implementation of the judge’s ruling is on hold pending appeal. Section 2 of DOMA, which remains in effect, continues to protect states from being forced to recognize marriages contracted in other jurisdictions that would not be valid under that state’s laws.

The brief filed by the religious groups offers a social science-based argument that Congress has a rational basis for defining marriage in a way that protects children. Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples could adversely affect the children raised in such homes. The brief states that traditional marriage is “closely tied to the welfare of children, the well-being of the family, and the health of the nation.”

The brief also argues that the definition of marriage has been established by the state as a moral issue and should be kept under that umbrella. “The great legislative debates of the past century — from business and labor regulations, to civil rights legislation, to environmentalism, to military spending, to universal health care, etc. — centered on contested questions of morality. The same is true of our current democratic conversation about the definition and purpose of marriage, which the Supreme Court long ago recognized as having ‘more to do with the morals and civilization of a people than any other institution.'”

The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton.

Other groups who joined the brief include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Many NAE denominations also added their support to the brief.