Defense of Marriage Act Is Unconstitutional, Supreme Court Rules

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In a major move toward gay marriage equality, the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- which denied federal benefits such as social security survivor payments to gay couples -- is unconstitutional.

What does that mean for Florida's gay couples? State law still forbids gay marriage and limits benefits, but if they're married in other states, it means broader protection under federal law. A ruling expected later this morning on California's Prop 8, a state ban on gay marriage, could have broader implications.

Update: The court has declined to rule on Prop 8, leaving state bans such as Florida's in place.

In states where gay marriage is legal, this morning's ruling means more than 1,000 federal benefits are now granted to gay partners, including insurance benefits and tax breaks.

The picture is murkier, though, in places such as Florida, where the state legislature has banned gay marriage and many LGBT rights.

If a couple marries in a state where gay unions are legal and then moves to Florida, they could lose many of those benefits. Here's how Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, breaks it down for Atlantic Wire:

This is where things get really complicated. This married couple will lose many (but not all) federal benefits. Minter explains that if someone wanted to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act which allows an employee to take time off work to take care for a sick spouse without losing their job, the state law on whether gay marriage exists would apply. So that right would be taken away from a New York couple that moves to Florida.

But Minter says that once a federal right is exercised, it cannot be taken away. So take the example of social security's survivor benefits. If a gay couple was married in New York and one spouse died there, the survivor would continue to collect social security survivor benefits even if he or she moved to Florida, Minter explains. However, if the couple was married in New York, moved to Florida, and one spouse died in Florida, the survivor would not be eligible for social security benefits. Minter bases this on how the federal government deals with existing common-law marriages, which are recognized in some states but not in others. If you're in a common-law marriage and living in a state that recognizes it, the federal government does too, but it won't recognize those marriages in states that don't.

Got that? Here's an even clearer quote from that Atlantic piece on what today's ruling means for Florida:

Elizabeth F. Schwartz, a Florida attorney who works on family law cases for gay couples, agrees, saying her state "would lose a lot of Floridians who want to relocate somewhere where they can get both federal and state benefits."

All that complication could go out the window, though, if the Court strikes down California's Prop 8, which bans gay marriage in that state. If the ruling is broad enough, it could invalidate state bans like Florida's.

The early indication, though, is that the Court is likely to let a lower court's ruling on Prop 8 stand without making a broader judgment that could strike down other state laws.

Update: The AP reports the Supreme Court has declined to rule on Prop 8. So get ready for a confusing day of sussing out what DOMA's removal means for gay couples living in Florida.

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11 comments
Eugene Buck
Eugene Buck

Great free insurance for Fudge Packers and Rug Munchers how nice

Bob Yard
Bob Yard

I pay for my wifes health insurance benefits, whats the difference? Its a lot cheaper than having none and being saddlled with unpaid debt forever from one medical issue

drakemallard
drakemallard topcommenter

Well, first of all, I believe ALL marriage is wrong!!"

The whole line that marriage existed before governments is utter bullshitt. You know what marriage was then, it was a contract between a man and the woman's father.It used to be about owning a woman and joining families together for power and property.Why do you care if somebody wants to marry who they love?" Same sex marriage should be legal. The fact that it's illegal is embarrassing.

The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which "the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one's skin or color or race" are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" proclaimed in the Declaration of Independenceā€

Carlos Andres
Carlos Andres

We all are brothers and sisters. C'mon dude...

Juan R. Pollo
Juan R. Pollo

And more expenses, you think the additional coverage will be free?

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