Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional


The Supreme Court’s ruling that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional paves the way for married gay couples to qualify for many federal benefits and protections previously limited to heterosexual couples.

The ruling applies to all married couples in all states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal.

Federal benefits and protections already given to opposite-sex married couples will now apply to same-sex couples, and will most likely affect the way businesses handle employee benefits, like healthcare and family leave, as well as hiring and new employee orientation practices.

Income Tax:  Gay married couples will be able to file a joint federal tax return.   This should also impact withholding requirements.  The ruling will also make it possible to claim dependency exemptions for the same sex spouse.  Spousal IRA contributions will be permitted for a same sex spouse.

Federal Estate Tax:  The unlimited marital deduction now applies to married same sex couples.

Social Security survivor benefits: If a spouse in the marriage dies, the surviving spouse can now collect surviving spouse benefits  if that amount is higher than the one he or she was currently receiving based on his or her own income.

Military benefits:   All benefits to opposite-sex military spouses will now apply to same-sex spouses as well. Additionally, spouses of deceased veterans will be eligible to receive veterans’ benefits. Other benefits include spousal coverage under health care plans and housing allowances to cover gay married couples.

Property sales: If one spouse sells land to another, capital gains taxes will not apply.

Retirement plan rollover: A deceased spouse’s Individual Retirement Account  or qualified plan distribution will qualify for a tax deferred spousal rollover.

Federal health care protections: Same-sex married couples will now be eligible to receive spousal benefits in Medicare, cutting the cost of those health plans.  Same sex couples should also qualify for COBRA continuation coverage.

Federal employee benefits: For federal employees, the government will recognize gay spouses, making them eligible for a variety of benefits such as healthcare coverage. Federal gay married employees can also participate in family medical leaves.

US Citizenship. Spouses who are citizens can now sponsor a visa for a non-citizen spouse and the foreign national can receive spousal preference for a path to citizenship.

Additional details may be expected to develop as the consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling become apparent.