Department of Family Therapy Dissertations and Applied Clinical Projects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Family Therapy


Tommiw V. Boyd

Committee Member

Shelley Green

Committee Member

James Hibel


Same-sex couples are affected by the social and political climates in which they live, as these create the difference between acceptance and legalization, and discrimination and prohibition, of their relationships. This contingence is made increasingly impactful by the privileges and protections afforded to married couples by the federal government; same-sex couples, along with other couples that choose not to, or cannot, marry, are excluded from these benefits. Following the June 26, 2013 ruling that Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional, same-sex couples were given access to over 1,100 federal protections and benefits and supported legally for the first time. My research explored the lived experiences of same-sex couples following this milestone in order to develop an understanding of the psychological and relational effects of the DOMA repeal on same-sex couples. This understanding may assist therapists working with these couples by increasing comprehension of their context and the effects of the DOMA repeal on their internal and relationship functioning. By understanding these aspects, therapists may work more capably and sensitively with same-sex couples, and be more informed regarding potential problems these clients may bring to therapy. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were employed in order to gather comprehensive data on the topic, utilize the strengths of both methodologies, and enhance the results of each method with the other. A single instrument, an online survey, was utilized. The quantitative paradigm provided numerical data on the experiences of same-sex couples following the DOMA repeal, as well as differences in experiences based on variance in state laws. Under the qualitative paradigm, phenomenological methodology was utilized to explore and convey participants' experience of the repeal in their own words. Responses were collected via survey to allow for more anonymity for participants, as well as a more representative sample of same-sex couples across the country. Qualitative and quantitative questions were included on the survey; responses were analyzed separately, and then merged during interpretation. Implications for clinical practice derived from this study are reviewed, as well as implications for advocacy work and directions for further research. It is hoped that this study will provide a better understanding of same-sex couples' lived experiences following the repeal of DOMA's Section Three, and provide implications for therapists working with these couples.

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