"United States v. Windsor" lawsuit: The U.S. Supreme Court
finds part of
DOMA law ruled unconstitutional.
2013-JUN to AUG: Impact of the
Radical IRS ruling favoring
The acronym "SSM" refers to "same-sex marriage."
The acronym "DOMA" refers to the federal Defense of Marriage Act
"SCOTUS" refers to the Supreme Court of the United States
2013-JUN-26: Background of the "United States v. Windsor" case involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):
The Court ruled that Section 3 of the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. This was the key section of the bill that had prohibited the federal government from recognizing legal, registered marriages of same-sex couples. Section 3 had denied all same-sex married couples benefits and protections from 1,138 federal programs that are routinely made available to opposite-sex couples. These programs included bankruptcy, federal student aid, federal employee benefits, family medical leave act, immigration, medicaid, medicare, military spousal benefits, private employment benefits, social security, supplemental security income, taxes, temporary assistance for needy families, veteran spousal benefits, etc.
Impact of the Windsor ruling on married couples:
For opposite-sex married couples, it has no impact. There are 1,138 federal government plans and protections that apply to them independent of:
- The state in which they live, and
- The state in which they were married.
However, for a same-sex married couple, things INITIALLY were much more complex:
- If they married in a state that allows same-sex marriage and currently lived in the same state or in a different state that also allows SSM, then they should qualify for most federal benefits just like any opposite-sex couple.
- However if they lived in a state that does not allow SSM then they may or may not have qualified for a given program. For example:
- Whether they benefit from the provision of immigration laws depends the state laws defining same-sex marriages where they were married, not where they currently live.
- Whether they benefit from Social Security survivor benefits depend upon the state where the couple lived at the time that a spouse died.
2013-AUG: Announcement by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Health and Human Services (HHS):
However, during the last week of 2013-AUG, the federal government introduced two major changes: 1
- The Internal Revenue Service now treats same-sex couples who have been legally married as equal to married opposite-sex couples regardless of whether or not their state of residence recognizes their marriage. More details are available at The Rainbow Times web site.
- Health and Human Services changed its rule regarding couples where one spouse is living in a nursing home under Medicare. Previously, only opposite-sex marriage couples had the option whereby the other spouse could choose to live in the same home. Now, this rule applies for legally married same-sex couples as well.
Contrasting interpretations issued by a pro-equality group and an anti-equality groups:
- Equality Maryland issued a statement saying:
"... the IRS made an announcement we can all get excited about! They have announced that legally married same-gender couples will receive the same recognition by the IRS as all other legally married couples - regardless of the state they live in. So if you get a legal same-gender marriage license in New York, while the State of Michigan will treat you as two separate individuals, your marriage will be recognized by the IRS for things related to your federal taxes like filing a joint tax return, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit. In other words, this is a game changing victory, but it is also a reminder that more progress is needed before true equality in Michigan is realized. 2
- However, The Family Research Council (FRC), which has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group 3 condemned the IRS and Treasury Department rulings. Chris Gacek, senior fellow for regulatory policy at the FRC, wrote:
"State family policies have been undermined today by the Obama administration. The federal government should not, as Justice Anthony Kennedy stated in his opinion for the majority in U.S. v. Windsor, 'put a thumb on the scales and influence a state's decision as to how to shape its own marriage laws.' We disagree with this interpretation of Windsor and are displeased to see the Obama administration's lack of respect for state marriage laws." 4
If we assume that Gacek's statement was sincere and not intended to confuse its readers, it appears that it is based on a misunderstanding of the two rulings.
There are two situations which commonly apply to married same-sex couples:
- They were married in the District of Columbia or in one of the 13 states where same-sex marriages are recognized. They continue to live where they married. Alternately, they have moved to a different part of the U.S. after marrying, that also allows same-sex couples to marry. In that case, both the IRS and Treasury Department are simply respecting both states' sets of marriage laws. In this case, Gacek's comment is simply wrong.
- They were married in the District of Columbia or in one of the 13 states where same-sex marriages are recognized. But they are now residents of one of the 37 states that does not yet recognize their marriage.
The IRS and Treasury Department had to take one of two options:
- Recognize and honor the marriage laws where the couple was married, and consider them married for the purposes of federal law. This requires that the federal government ignore the law of the state in which they reside, and make the couple eligible for 1,138 benefits.
- Recognize and honor the marriage laws of of the state where the couple resides, and reject the laws where they married. The federal government would them consider them unmarried, and would deny them access to the 1,138 benefits.
Either way, the IRS is forced to deny the legitimacy of one set of state laws. They chose to "respect for state marriage laws" in the place where the couple was married, and consider them married. This necessitates that they ignore the marriage laws of the state where the couple resides.
Eleven national LGBT advocacy organizations have jointly issued a series of fact sheets to help same-sex couples and their families understand their new federal rights. See "After DOMA: What it Means For You. You can read the LGBT Organizations' Fact Sheet Series" at: http://www.glad.org
The above information is believed to be accurate as of 2013-SEP-01. However, do not use it to make personal decisions without checking first with a government information source. Rules can change at any time.
This topic continues in the next essay
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- TRT Editor, "MassEquality on U.S. Treasury & Health and Human Service Rulings For Married Same-Sex Couples," Mass Equality, 2013-AUG-30, at: http://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/
- "Federal Tax Equality Victory," Equality Michigan, 2013-AUG-29. at: https://equalityfederation.salsalabs.com/
- From the Winter 2010 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) Intelligence Report. The SPLC monitors racist, homophobic, nativist, and other hate groups in the U.S.
- Chris Gacek, "FRC Responds to Treasury, IRS Announcements on Homosexual Marriage Benefits," Family Research Council, 2013-AUG-29, at: http://www.frc.org/