Enter Gay Marriage; Exit Domestic Partnerships
If You Like It (and Your Benefits) Then You Better Put a Ring on It.
Yes, same-sex marriage recognition is officially the law of the land, but a Supreme Court ruling doesn't magically wipe state laws off the books. Several states still have laws in place banning same-sex recognition, even if they are no longer enforceable. Maybe they'll get around to erasing them eventually. It took South Carolina until 1998 and Alabama until 2000 to formally end their bans on interracial marriage (though obviously they were not enforcing the law).
In the meantime, the IRS has announced it will recognize same-sex marriages in all 50 states regardless of what the law says. NBC reports that the decision will cover "any federal tax provision in which marriage is a factor — including filing status, personal and dependency exemptions and standard deductions." It also means employer-offered health coverage will be tax-free for same-sex spouses.
But now that same-sex marriage is recognized by the government, we're seeing the end of the duct-taped workaround—the domestic partnership. Also this week, the State Department announced that it will begin phasing out its domestic partnership program. It's going to be gone by September, 2018. Anybody employed by the State Department who wants to keep his or her partner's benefits needs to make it "official" by then.
This could be a bit of a challenge for some State Department employees, who are scattered all across the world. Most countries still don't recognize same-sex marriage. Some work in countries where homosexuality is illegal and they're concerned about potential legal consequences of entering into an actual marriage. The State Department's organization that represents gay employees is objecting to the shift.
We're seeing more governments and colleges ending these domestic partnerships and requiring marriages to access benefits. But not all are taking this route. Broward County in Florida has decided to keep its domestic partner program, which permits both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to participate, acknowledging that some couples don't get married for reasons other than legal bans but nevertheless want to be treated as though they're a family.
Do domestic partnerships still have value if marriage becomes blind to the sexes of the members of the couple? Is there a value in some sort of "marriage lite" that allows couples to define families to the state, be treated like families by the state, but avoid the full legal entanglements of a marriage contract by the voluntary decision of the couple (and not because the state gives them no other options)?