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Volume 73, Number 3

June 1998

The Defense of Marriage Act: Congress’s Use of Narrative in the Debate over Same-Sex Marriage

Charles J. Butler

This Note addresses that question by examining Congress’s use of narratives in the debates over DOMA. Narratives are stories circulated within communities and institutions that both shape and reveal society’s attitudes toward issues, particularly polemic questions. In enacting DOMA, members of Congress used narratives to respond to what they perceived and portrayed as a menace posed by same-sex marriage. Because stories about gays and lesbians in relationships resembling heterosexual marriage have been gaining widespread attention in recent years, anxieties regarding homosexuality and traditional marriage notions have sharpened in certain segments of society, creating a breach in the prevailing social order. Members of Congress used narratives to mend this breach. In deliberations over DOMA, they related stories about gays and lesbians that countered the increasingly common story of same-sex marriage; by reinforcing apprehensions surrounding gays and lesbians and reasserting the familiar heterosexual version of the marriage narrative, Congress attempted to quell the threat posed by stories of same-sex marriage.