How Does DOMA Hurt Same-Sex Couples?
At Wednesday’s senate judiciary hearings into the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage, research group the Williams Institute, together with the UCLA School of Law, submitted as part of their testimony research that demonstrates the very real impact DOMA has on married same-sex couples.
The report starts by providing figures on just how many same-sex married or partnered couples there are in the U.S. based on the latest census information and state reports:
The Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates that there are 581,300 same-sex couples in the United States. More than half of lesbians and gay men are in committed cohabiting relationships.
Counts from state administrative agencies show that more than 50,000 same-sex couples have married. Analyses of the 2010 Williams Institute/Harris-Interactive Same-sex Couple Survey show that nearly 14% of same-sex couples in the United States are legally married under state law.
This study along with the state administrative agency counts imply that there are 50,000 to 80,000 legally married same-sex couples in the United States today. In addition, another 85,000 same-sex couples are in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships. ACS data also suggest that approximately 20% of same-sex couples are raising nearly 250,000 children.
The Williams Institute report then lists some of the ways in which those married couples are harmed by DOMA.
I’ve summarized the findings as a taster for you below, but this is by no means a complete list and nor is it reflective of the breadth of the institute’s report:
Denied Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Benefits — Estimates suggest that 43,000 employees would qualify for medical leave pay but are denied it because FMLA does not cover leave to care for a same-sex partner.
Denied Benefits for Spouses of Federal Employees — The Williams Institute estimates there are around 30,200 federal employees with a same-sex partner who, not being federal employees themselves, are denied spousal benefits because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages. This impacts health care coverage and work/injury compensation to name but a few.
Denied Veteran Partner Benefits — Around 68,000 veterans have same-sex partners that are barred from pension benefits, educational assistance and vocational training, as well as many other benefits.
Denied Equal Treatment in Taxation of Employee Health Benefits — If a company has implemented a health benefit scheme that covers same-sex partners, benefits that are taxed under federal law (and therefore invoke DOMA’s lack of recognition for same-sex partners) mean an unfair burden on both employees and employers. The Williams Institute suggests this disparity may run to over $1,000 a year.
Denied Equal Treatment Under Spousal Impoverishment Protections for Medicaid Long Term Care (LTC) –Spousal impoverishment protections through Medicaid-financed LTC, that for instance protect opposite-sex spouses from having to sell their home in order to pay for care of a partner, does not extend to same-sex couples. While estimating how many people this effects is difficult, the institute makes a best guess that this effects between 1,700-3,000 individuals with same-sex partners who receive Medicaid-financed long-term care.
Denied Equal Treatment in Inheritance Tax — Same-sex spouses are treated as legal strangers by the federal government and are therefore subject to different rules governing inheritance tax, so for couples that exceed the non-taxable transfer of assets there is an additional tax burden that the institute calculates could amount to, on average, as much as $4 million.
Denied Joint Income Tax Filings — While currently avoiding the so-called “marriage penalty,” many same-sex couples would benefit if they could file jointly and would avoid several tax burdens. Moreover, DOMA forces states to treat those in same-sex marriages as individuals for the purposes of federal forms, an infringement of state sovereignty that DOMA was supposed to avoid.
Denied Equal Social Security Survivor or Spousal Benefits — Unlike opposite-sex couples, same-sex spouses cannot continue to claim their partner’s higher rate of benefits after their spouse has died. This can result in an average loss of $5,700 per year. This is just one way in which DOMA impacts social security and survival benefits.
Denied Equal Treatment for Bi-National Couples — There are nearly 26,000 same-sex couples in the United States who are bi-national and could be forced to separate because they cannot participate in green-card and accelerated citizenship mechanisms. Economists have also detected financial repercussions including limits on upward mobility and occupational advancement that can be traced, at least in part, back to DOMA’s restrictions.
In addition to the above, the Williams Institute also points out there are health and social impacts of DOMA, including the stigma of being rendered second class by having a federal government that cannot recognize your partnerships.
Also, while same-sex couples have proven themselves just as capable of child rearing as their straight counterparts, it cannot be denied that they have managed this despite being greatly disadvantaged by DOMA’s restrictions.