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.

To read the full report, please click here (.pdf).


Related Reading:

Obama ‘Proud’ to Endorse DOMA Repeal Bill

Maine Next Hope for Gay Marriage?

Obama’s LGBT Pride Month Speech (VIDEO)


Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to alex-s.


ERIKA S10 months ago


C Vera
C Vera6 years ago

Scarlett, You ignorant slut. The issue should not be that some people want the same rights as others. Individuals with an intellect as great as mine will recognize that no two people should have rights, privileges, or benefits extended to them based on the notion they call themselves married...or domestic partnership...or who cares who they do most. No one; no couple by any name should have anything beyond what I have as single. Argue that!

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

Scarlett G., judging from your name, I assume you are a woman? If we did not "change the rules as we proceed," you would have no voice in this (nor would anyone who is not a middle or high class white male), though, since you haven't the slightest idea how to turn off Caps Lock nor have you shown that you are capable off higher thought some should argue that you should not have a voice anyway. As for the "screw-ups with genetics" part, thank you for showing that in spite of your bigoted views and ill logic you are capable of understanding that sexuality is not a choice. And never claim anything beyond your understanding nor beyond your own labels as a "screw-up" as the same could be said for you being born a woman or being born incapable of a complete thought.
Finally, do not attempt to attack those who think with "pseudo-intellects," as your own logic holds as much merit as you believe your opponents' do. Wake up, and take your own advise and "be serious."

joan g.
.6 years ago


Michael M.
Michael M6 years ago

Timothy H, it also says in Deuteronomy that eating shellfish is against god's will. Have you had your shrimp today?

Michael M.
Michael M6 years ago

Tom Y, you have such a small heart. I hope that one day, like the Grinch who stole Christmas, that your heart will grow. Clearly, you are homophobic. I suppose you are Christian, also. DOMA does nothing more than create second-class citizens.

Tom Y.
Tom Y6 years ago

What "bigotry" is there in the self-evident definition of marriage? One man, one woman, to the exclusion of all others, is the only model that works both for its couple and for the longevity of the human family and civilization! DOMA hurts the participants in gay relationships less than the actions within those relationships do. Appeasing loud voices by redefining such an essential union, simply to balm the inherent miseries of gay couplings for a moment's triumph, is actually barbaric: sacrificing the permanent to sate the temporary.

What the West needs to restore and maintain is an environment conducive to faithful long-term commitment and child rearing, with appropriate discretion for adult sexual issues -- not the bedroom insisting it has the right to parade through the streets and insist on having its demands appeased. DOMA is the solution, not the problem.

Glenna Jones-kachtik
Glenna Kachtik6 years ago

Timothy we are not talking about the Bible. We are not talking about the word of GOD or whether people will be accepted into Heaven or not. WE are talking about rights - civil rights - guaranteed by the constitution of the United States to every woman, & man in America. For committing crimes against the state or the nation, you can loose those civil rights. Yes, is some states being gay is now against the law. But that law is unconstitutional because we are talking secular law not Biblical law. Since there are religions, right here in America, who do not look at homosexuality the way YOUR RELIGION does - & since there is no established religion in America - gays should be allowed the same civil rights as any other person in America.
You have a right to believe as you wish. You have a right to treat gays with disdain & condemn them to hell - you shouldn't have the right to make their lives hell on earth & you shouldn't have the right to discriminate against them. If your son or daughter came to you & said they were gay - you have the right to cut them from your life, treat them as if they were dead & throw them wouldn't show much love & compassion - but then you can do that here.
If you want to live in a world where gays are killed, maimed & persecuted for a Belief system, go live in Uganda. If you want Biblical law to be the law of the land - you are just as bad as those who follow Sharia law instead of secular law.

Tami Kennedy
Tami Kennedy6 years ago

Gary S. I hope you are never driving a car as you come up with your twisted logic for a response like that :) DOMA must go!

Timothy Hughes
Timothy Hughes6 years ago

This Used to be known as One Nation Under God and has on the Nearly-Defunct One Dollar Bill which claims "IN GOD WE TRUST"
The BiBLE known as the Word Of God specifically denounces homosexual activity as "Vile" in the book of Romans1 verses 26and27,and in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 17 He calls it "Abomination" ,and in Leviticus chapter 20 verse13 it is called "Detestable" This goes far beyond 'marriage' of same-sex couples.