The Impact of Federal Rulings on Same-Sex Marriages

DOMA and Its Effect on Gay Marriage

The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1993 with the purpose of defining marriage as the “legal union between one man and one woman.” In 2013, two cases were brought before the Supreme Court that challenged the act as unconstitutional. A majority opinion held that DOMA is indeed unconstitutional because it deprives a person of rights afforded them by the Fifth Amendment.

Defense of Marriage Act

In the 1980s, same-sex marriages were garnering mainstream attention and would begin to become a polarizing issue politically on the national stage. There were a number of high-profile cases that began to lay the groundwork for the legalization of gay marriage. One in particular was a 1989 case in which New York City ruled that two gay men qualified as a family for the purposes of rent control. During the Clinton administration, DOMA was enacted arguably in order to slow this progress. There were three main provisions to the act. These include:

  • Section 1: cites the provocative title
  • Section 2: preserves the rights of the individual state
  • Section 3: legally defines the terms marriage and spouse

How DOMA Was Overruled

The court was forced to consider the constitutionality of DOMA due to two cases taking place during the same time period. One was Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenged Proposition 8 in California. The other was United States v. Windsor, which was a tax case in which the federal government was taxing an estate without recognizing a marriage that was recognized by the State of New York. The overruling had certain immediate effects on many families, and this includes:

  • Marital benefits
  • Healthcare benefits
  • Military family benefits
  • Various tax protections
  • Social Security benefits
  • Hospital visitation rights

What Does the DOMA Ruling Mean for Gay Marriage?

Due to Section 2, the DOMA ruling does not mean that every state had to immediately recognize gay marriage. In 2013, in New Jersey, a judge ruled that the state constitution required the state to recognize gay marriages due to the US v. Windsor decision at the federal level. This was not, however, the case everywhere, and many gay couples still face challenges that require assistance from lawyers. In some ways, the ruling even hurt the gay community because the decision explained that while the federal government will recognize gay marriages, it will not recognize:

  • Civil unions
  • Domestic partnerships
  • Other social constructs

What About Non-Married Same-Sex Couples?

In New Jersey, the state constitution protects you. In other states, gay couples may not have these same protections. Even if you married in a state that allows gay marriage but move to a state that doesn’t, you may face challenges at the state level. At the federal level, you are protected, but that protection does you no good if you can’t get married in the first place. Even though Edith Windsor won her case against the United States, a person in a state-recognized civil union or domestic partnership would lose that case.

The Economic Impact of Lifting the Federal Ban

There was at the time great consternation that lifting the federal ban on gay marriage would have an immediate and negative impact on the federal budget. That did not occur. Federal tax revenue actually increased due to the higher taxes often known as the marriage penalty. The statistics also show that any increased spending on benefits is actually offset by lower assistance elsewhere, such as with Medicaid. In the states that complied, budgets also got a boost due to the influx of marriage license fees.

Get the Legal Help You Need Today

Are you a partner in a same-sex couple and believe that your rights are being infringed upon? Are you seeking a divorce and want advice? At the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco, we are same-sex divorce lawyers. Through our firm, you can discuss your circumstances and receive a consultation. Contact us today online or by calling our office in Hackensack, New Jersey, at 201-343-0078.

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