The Global Impact of the DOMA Decision
The Global Impact of the DOMA Decision

There are broad international political and cultural ramifications from the decision of the Supreme Court to rule the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. In a 5-4 decision brought about by the case United States v. Windsor the court determined the use of the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, as “deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment” (Brayton, 2013). While this decision paves the way for more states to adopt gay marriage laws, 37 states still do not recognize marriage equality, putting the U.S. behind Europe, where 22 out of 51 countries recognize same sex unions (“Should all EU,” 2013). Since 2010, eight countries and nine U.S. states have legalized same sex marriages (DeSilver, 2013). Whether the U.S. decision can have an impact on countries where it is still illegal, remains to be seen though President Obama is continuing to push for global reform on the issue.

Global Reactions to Ruling

President Obama learned of the court’s decision while on a diplomatic trip to Africa and called upon leaders there to decriminalize homosexuality in their own countries. Currently, Africa is the most limited region for recognizing same sex marriages, with 37 countries banning it by law while some even punish it with a death penalty. During a conference in Senegal, President Obama stated that, “…regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you…people should be treated equally.” Many Africans resented the statements, especially religious leaders, who saw it as the reason he had received a “less-than-warm welcome” during his visit (Nzwili, 2013).

The Supreme Court’s decision received mixed reactions internationally, with African leaders rejecting any outside influence on the subject. In Tanzania, Anglican Bishop Michael Hafidh stated that homosexuality, “is not an important issue for us right now. We don’t even recognize or even think of it, let alone its legalization.” Others fear its spread from the West as an accepted lifestyle (Nzwili, 2013).

DOMA and the Immigration Debate

The DOMA decision impacts U.S. businesses that are looking to retain the talent of workers engaged in a same sex relationship with a foreign national. In March 2013, a number of corporations had signed off on a letter to convince the U.S. Congress to recognize same sex unions in the interest of immigration (Cooper, 2013). For U.S. companies, retaining top tier workers is crucial in keeping them competitive in the world economy. The ability to bring in workers has also been hindered by marriage laws.  A recent a survey finds that 42 percent of companies miss out on hiring workers because the law does not allow them to bring their same sex partner into the country (Cooper, 2013).

These large businesses hope that the DOMA decision will allow them to compete with companies that operate overseas. On July 7th, the U.S. government announced that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will begin to review immigrant visa petitions filed on behalf of a same sex spouse in the same way it does with opposite sex partners (Laguatan, 2013). This decision could also bring many ex-patriots back into the U.S. who were living with their partners in another country. According to an estimate, there are 637,000 legal immigrants and 267,000 undocumented immigrants identify as LGBT (Sarlin, 2013). This means that applying for a green card for same sex partners will be available in states where it is recognized.


By declaring DOMA unconstitutional and granting equal rights to same sex partners, the U.S. is setting an example for other developed countries and paving the way for similar decisions in the coming years. The ability of the U.S. to compete in the world economy also relies on keeping talent in the country, by recognizing marriage equality; it is a step in the right direction. As public opinion continues to grow in favor of same sex marriage, other countries will be forced to enact more progressive laws as the top economies compete to attract business and workers.

The decision of the Supreme Court can also boost the image of American values abroad, showing that the ideals of equality and freedom for all are still primary goals in the country. By providing a boost to the image of U.S. law overseas, other countries may more willing to follow its lead on other issues, reversing a trend of foreign courts relying on American law to support their own decisions (Cohen, 2013). While it is not expected that same sex marriage will be universally recognized overnight, the fact is each year public support increases and governments are continuing to adopt legislation.

Works Cited

Brayton, E. (2013, June 28). Kennedy, DOMA and ‘equal liberty’. Retrieved from

Cohen, D. F. (2013, July 10). Saving the constitution’s reputation abroad. US News and World  Report. Retrieved from

Cooper, P. (2013, June 27). DOMA ruling makes U.S. businesses more globally  competitive. CNN. Retrieved from

DeSilver, D. (2013, June 04). A global snapshot of same-sex marriage. Retrieved from

Laguatan, T. (2013, July 07). Gays and lesbians ecstatic: US okays visa petitions for same sex  marriages read more. Inquirer Global Nation. Retrieved from

Nzwili, F. (2013, July 05). African religious leaders reject Obama’s call for gay  rights. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Sarlin, B. (2013, June 26). DOMA decision to end exile of gay couples abroad. MSNBC.  Retrieved from

Should all EU states recognise gay marriage?. (2013, April 24). Debating Europe. Retrieved  from


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