US: Legally Married Gay Couples Entitled to Federal Benefits

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Down With Doma

Yesterday, June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States (Scotus)ruled that The Defense of Marriage Act, that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered “the swing vote,” read the majority opinion in language similar to his opinion on historic past “gay rights”  cases of Romer v. Evans in 1996 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.

In a 5-to-4 decision, he was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.  Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito all filed dissenting opinions.

Reasoning Behind Supreme Court’s Decision

Kennedy, a Moderate-Democrat, wrote:  “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.” Or more simply put, by seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute violates the Constitution.

President Barack Obama released a statement saying that” DOMA was discrimination enshrined in law.  It treated loving, committed, gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people.  The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.”

example of a marriage – It’s official! Jeff & Paul are now married.

watch them get married. http://bit.ly/129NMTX

Benefits Under DOMA

Under DOMA, Social Security, pension and bankruptcy benefits, along with family medical leave protections and other federal provisions totaling 1,000 benefits did not apply to gay and lesbian couples legally married in states that recognize such unions. Without DOMA, 100,000 gay and lesbian couples who are legally married will be able to take advantage of tax breaks, pension rights and other benefits that are available to other married couples.

However, the decision leaves in place another provision in the law that saysno state is required to recognize gay marriages performed in any other state. As argumentative as Antonin Scalia may seem, he has a point when he says that the majority decision today will lead to challenges when somebody who’s married, as he puts it, in Albany, then moves to Alabama and wants the rights they had in New York State which has same-sex marriage.  Will they sue the federal court in other states to receive benefits?

37 States Without Legalized Marriage:  What’s Covered with Benefits

With thousands of couples living in states that do not recognize gay marriage they do not know yet whether they will be allowed to file their federal income taxes jointly.  They also don’t know whether they are entitled to a range of marital tax exemptions such as Edie Windsor’s case  (Windsor v. U.S.) that  prompted the ruling.

Benefits NOT Covered in Non-Legalized Gay Marriage States

To determine a couple’s marital status, federal agencies generally defer to the states.  Some agencies are guided by the laws in the state in which a couple now live while others look to those in the state in which the couple were married.

It’s so complex as the Internal Revenue Service as well as the Social Securities Administration defines marriage based on where a couple livesand not on where they married. The Department of Defense and immigration law consider where the couple were married, regardless of where they live. If you live in a state with a ban on marriage, but have been joined in a civil union in that state, you will not receive federal benefits.  A foreigner in a same-sex marriage with a U.S. citizen is entitled to federal benefits and your spouse is allowed to apply for a permanent visa “green card.” If you live in a state with a ban, but visit and get married in a state where it is legal, you will receive some federal benefits which will vary by agency.

Still Penalized If Live in States Without Gay Marriage

It will take a l-ooo-n-g time before hundreds of federal agency provisions affecting benefits for gay couples are reinterpreted or revised across the U.S.  The DOMA ruling, along with the banning of Proposition 8 in California, were welcome baby steps toward equality for gay and lesbian couples.  But until the Supreme Court makes a sweeping decision to legalize marriage as a constitutional right in every state, gays and lesbians living in states without legalized same-sex marriage will not receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples and will continue to feel that their unions are inferior.

meanwhile

The US state of California can now resume issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Same-sex couples wishing to marry in the US state of California have been pleasantly surprised, as a crucial stay has been lifted, meaning the state can immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

In 2010, the United States District Court had ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, and the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also affirmed that Prop 8 was unconstitutional in 2012. The Supreme Court, however, said in its decision that the court should not have ruled either, as it was not in its jurisdiction.

The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday lifted its stay on an injunction, which had ordered state officials to stop enforcing Prop 8. This means marriage licenses can immediately be issued to same-sex couples.

Originally a spokesman for the 9th Circuit had said it would take almost a month to act following the Supreme Court ruling, however Governor Jerry Brown had instructed his public health agency to advise the state’s counties to ”begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the 9th Circuit confirms the stay is lifted.”

Opponents to the lifting of Prop 8 immediately after the ruling seemed adamant that the ruling would only affect the couples who brought the case, however no effort to narrow the decision has materialised.

County clerks said they were ready to begin issuing marriage licenses, which are gender neutral, to same-sex couples, and the Attorney General Kamala D Harris, said the court had the authority to act quickly.

Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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