It’s time to start drilling down into the nitty gritty of the Supreme Court’s historic decision to strike down the key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That key provision, Section 3, said the federal government could not recognize marriage licenses obtained by same-sex couples.
But there are some details to work out concerning existing definitions in various federal laws. Here’s what we know and don’t know so far:
1. Couples who live in the District of Columbia and the 13 marriage equality states and have valid marriage licenses from those states will be recognized by the federal government as married for most benefits.
Those states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
2. Couples who obtain a marriage license in a marriage equality state but move to or live in a state that bans recognition of same-sex marriage will be able to obtain federal benefits.
3. When it comes to taxes, things get complicated. The Internal Revenue Service is expected to allow duly married same-sex couples to start using the designation “married,” whether filing jointly or separately. But current practice relies on whether the state in which one resides considers one married.
“This will likely be an evolving area of law and you should consult with a qualified tax expert about your circumstances,” advises an After DOMA guide prepared by gay legal advocacy groups
4. Social Security benefits may be tricky, depending on where you live.
For married couples living in marriage equality states, says GLAD’s Mary Bonauto, there’s no issue. But for couples living in the other 37 states, there is. For spousal benefits, she says, the Social Security statute looks at “the state of domicile at the time of application.” For survivor benefits, she says, it “looks at the state of domicile of the decedent.”
5. Under DOMA, if you received health insurance coverage under your spouse’s health plan, you had to pay income taxes on the value of that coverage. Now, if you’re married, you don’t have to pay income taxes on that coverage and, if your spouse loses his or her job and needs to continue the health coverage under the federal COBRA plan, your coverage can continue, too.
6. If you are single, enjoy your uncomplicated legal status. As you dream of that white picket fence, don’t forget the thicket of laws it represents.