Gray Zone

Where You Live May Make All The Difference For Federal Marriage Benefits

There’s no downplaying the significance of the Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. But in fact the ruling may not be quite as sweeping as you might think. Just because you were legally married in one state doesn’t mean you will necessarily get all the benefits you think you are entitled to. Geography will play a big role in how the federal government looks upon your marriage.

The Supreme Court made it clear that the federal benefits it made available to same-sex married couples will only apply to those couples married in states that have marriage equality. Those couples who live in states that ban marriage equality are still out in the cold.

The problem will be when couples move from the state where they are married. If you move for work or school, retire or for whatever reason end up in a state that does not recognize your marriage, you are in a gray zone (which will be a lawyer’s delight).

The reason: for some federal benefits, the government relies upon the state in which you live to determine if you are legally married. If you move from Massachusetts to Montana, for the purpose of certain federal benefits you are no longer married. Those benefits include Social Security survivor benefits. It may also affect whether you will be able to take unpaid leave to care for your spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Moving may also affect how you pay taxes. If you move to a non-marriage equality state, it’s not clear whether you can still file a joint federal tax return, which could mean a big financial hit. 

It will take years of litigation to sort through these issues. In the meantime, the Obama Administration could do everyone a big favor by making it clear how it interprets the application of benefits.

Map credit: Lokal_Profil

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  • Harley

    Sound like we aren’t done with the Supreme Court yet. Get out your wallets gurls cause its going to cost ALOT more money to get full equality in this country. It’s a good day to be a lawyer.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    The USS Bigotry is taking on water.

  • niles

    The states have no business dictating to the federal government who is married or not. If you have a marriage certificate, that should suffice. And what about civil unions?

  • alterego1980

    @niles: I heard on the news that civil unions, ironically enough, don’t count because the terminology for access to the benefits is for “marriage” only

  • hyhybt

    That map, even aside from the physical pain caused by looking at striping those colors together, desperately needs a key.

  • Mutt N

    So hetro folks getting married in Vegas, are still married in their own states, right? Doesn’t seem fair. I’d have to move to one of the marriage equality states to have federal rights with my partner of 27 years? Sounds crazy.

  • Robert

    I hope all our gay brothers and sisters move to marriage equality states. Let those non equality marriage states lose revenue.

  • twinpeaks457

    I’m in BLUE CA and assuming blue means legal and red is no and won’t happen?

  • twinpeaks457

    We need a key

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Mutt N, Agreed. That’s why, if this issue is ever brought before the Supreme Court again, we would win. Scalia even said so. So now the conservatives on the Court and the unscrupulous Republicans are undoing the Voting Rights Act, to make it more difficult for under served populations (Blacks) oppressed when it comes time to vote. This is all so that they can get more white, male, conservatives on the Supreme Court bench. I’ve lost faith in our system, because of these games. The House will likely never reinstate the Voting Rights Act, because they have already gerrymandered states, too stupid to understand what’s happened to them, in order to get a majority in the house and do things, such as letting the Voters Rights Act die. It’s sick! We need to do our best to rectify this injustice.

  • CJ

    Oh, my favorite dilemma to bring up is the legally married couple with kids in which one is in the military and gets stationed in a state that bans marriage. It’s difficult enough to consider what benefits and rights they may lose if they move as a family, but what happens if only the serviceperson makes the move so that, say the couple live separately in New York and Tennessee? What a quagmire.

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