Four Changes the DOMA Ruling Has Wrought

Benefits, immigration changes, and ammunition for future challenges

Boom times for the magic marker industryCredit: vpickering / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDOn June 26 the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states where they were legal.

The change has a huge impact on the lives of gay couples living in states where their marriages are recognized. Ultimately it may even have just as great an impact in states where they are not. Here’s a quick summary of four consequences coming as a result of the DOMA ruling.

1. Federal benefit expansion

Of course, the biggest, most obvious change is that married gay couples qualify for whatever benefits or special treatments the federal government extends to their heterosexual counterparts (including tax penalties). The lawsuit that led to the DOMA ruling revolved around the case of a lesbian couple in New York and their desire to get the same estate tax exemption for surviving spouses as heterosexuals. When Edith Windsor’s wife, Thea Spyer, died in 2009, Windsor was ordered by the IRS to pay more than $350,000 in estate taxes she wouldn’t have if the federal government recognized their marriage.

Spousal and Social Security survivor benefits, and more than 1,000 federally recognized benefits that are tied to marital status, will be extended to couples in states where gay marriage is legalized. The massive federal bureaucracy being how it is, though, means that the benefit discrepancy that inspired the lawsuit may be the slowest to actually change. The Nation notes:

What’s not as clear is how many of those benefits can be quickly extended to same-sex couples. In particular, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs have some thorny rules that may leave elderly couples and gay veterans in a legal no-man’s land for years to come.

“These two areas are of quite a bit of significance,” said Susan Sommer, the director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, the country’s oldest gay-rights firm. Sommer noted that it’s too early to say exactly what options the executive branch has for extending VA and Social Security benefits to all same-sex spouses in spite of the statutes. “It may well be a different process and higher hurdles.”

Complicating matters a bit for federal employees, the Office of Personnel Management announced Monday that workers in states that have civil unions but not formally recognized same-sex marriages will not qualify for benefits.

President Barack Obama and the Justice Department are urging changes to be implemented “swiftly and smoothly,” but we’re talking about agencies like the IRS and the Social Security Administration here. "Swift" and "smooth" are not words commonly associated with them.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    5. Civil attorneys got huge boners

    Get ready for endless lawsuits.

  • Scott S.||

    I only reported on things that would be different from how they are now.

  • Fist of Etiquette||


  • Scarecrow Repair||

    I think *smack* is more like it.

  • Tony||

    Frivolous lawsuits is a curmudgeon's complaint, like children being on your lawn. What is with libertarians disrespecting the important right to sue? If there are grievances to be sued over, then it's a good thing when people seek to fix them. It's hardly a reason to deny the correction of a civil rights injustice.

  • ||

    Nothing respectful about the current American justice system which has become a lottery.

    Businesses now routinely settle out of court solely to avoid attorney's fees. Tort reform, yesterday!

  • Almanian!||

    Make sure you post an abortion article, too. For balance. So we get BOTH of the only subjects that matter in DC.


    I mean
    /IRS "So called" scandals

    I mean
    /Team America - World Police

    I mean

  • Mickey Rat||

    "When Edith Windsor’s wife, Thea Spyer, died in 2009, Windsor was ordered by the IRS to pay more than $350,000 in estate taxes she wouldn’t have if the federal government recognized their marriage."

    Or, if the federal government had not reinstated the estate tax that had been eliminated for several years under the Bush era tax system.

  • 16th amendment||

    I accept gay marriage thing and get the fairness thing, but does anyone see the irony of the democrats supporting the woman whose estate had to pay 350k in estate taxes. That means that she is rich, with an estate of at least $2M. Democrats are supporting rich people, whereas their official goal is to screw rich people. Ah, the irony!

    Many gays will pay more in taxes because of the marriage penalty. This is likely to happen if both are working and both are making more than 75k. If only one is working, their tax bill will go down.

    The constitution has a full faith and credit clause which says that states will honor laws of other states, although there are some exceptions. So this issue will go to court.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "[Justice Kennedy's] language in the majority opinion gave a lot of ammo for calling it a precedent that the state does not have a legitimate reason for denying marriage recognition for same-sex couple. And so his words are pushing the state battles forward."

    I would just point out that, in an earlier thread, Nick Gillespie said that this decision was all about federalism, and conservatives are into federalism, right?

    "Shouldn't the proper conservative and constitutional POV be basically what the court decided, which was that the feds should recognize marriages based on the appropriate state law?"

    With respect, Scott Shackford shows more understanding of what the Court did, and why conservatives aren't necessarily on board with it.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Imagine a group being skeptical about someone making a federalist argument for strictly and openly utilitarian reasons.

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  • Marshall Gill||

    The change has a huge impact on the lives of gay couples living in states where their marriages are recognized.

    Pathetic. It is sad that so many people are such Statists that they can't imagine doing something without the government approving and "helping out". Yea for the government!!!!

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