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DOMA's death changes economic life today

Hundreds of people gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, DC on June 26, 2013 in anticipation of the rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down on Wednesday the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law which denies same-sex couples the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples. The majority opinion states that the 1996  law "violates basic due process and equal protection principles."

Here's the AP with the details on the decision:

In the case involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by the court's liberal justices.

"Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways," Kennedy said.

"DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal," he said.

The legality of DOMA was questioned by a case known as United States v. Windsor. Edith Windsor, who was widowed when her wife Thea Spyer died, challenged the $363,053 estate tax she was forced to pay when she received Spyer’s estate. DOMA denied such federal benefits to legally married gay and lesbian couples in the 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow same-sex marriage.

Now that the DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional, legally married same-sex couples will be eligible for over 1,000 federal programs and benefits, including the Unlimited Marital Deduction, which allows spouses to transfer property tax-free to one another. Below is a list of the advantages legally married couples – and now, legally married same-sex couples – have in the U.S.:

  1. Joint taxes. Gay and lesbian couples will be able to file taxes jointly. However, this may end up costing some couples more money.
  2. Removes transfer of property tax. Same-sex couples can now qualify for the Unlimited Marital Deduction.
  3. Medical rights. The ability to make medical decisions on your spouse’s behalf.
  4. Government employment. Spouses of veterans get preferential treatment when applying for government jobs.
  5. Health insurance. Qualification for spousal employee health insurance, which is taxed as income.
  6. Benefits for the disabled. Disability benefits for married and divorced spouses.
  7. Social Security and Retirement BenefitsThe worker's spouse may be eligible for a benefit based on the worker's earnings.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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