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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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Nice overview, but when you look at the details, your article paints far too nice a picture of life "post-Windsor".

The main thing to know is that DOMA is *not* dead -- only the part defining marriage as between one man and one woman on the federal level. There is no new law waiting in the wings that grants marriage equality on the federal level.

The part that permits the individual states to refuse to honor same-sex marriages that take place in other states still stands and it was not at issue in the Windsor case. There was no constitutional right to same-sex marriage established today (that *could* have happened if Prop 8 was dismissed on the widest possible grounds, but that didn't happen: instead the narrowest possible decision
was made, allowing a lower court's decision to stand that only affects California).

What does it mean for the millions who married legally in one state but now live in another? They are still not treated as married for state purposes, which means legal rights on the federal level accord with the phrasing of each federal statue or regulation. Federal agencies define marital status either by state of residence or state of celebration, depending on the agency. Immigration goes by state of celebration, which means you can live in a non-equality state and still be married in the eyes of Homeland Security. But Social Security, the IRS and the military (all branches, including the VA) use state of residence, and their definitions are laid out by Congress rather than by the Obama administration.

So, if you and your spouse are already U.S. citizens, life only changes for you if:

1) You married in a marriage equality state *and*
2) You live full-time in a marriage equality state

So if you got married in a marriage-equality state, but don't live there anymore, pretty much nothing changed today. YOU STILL HAVE NONE OF THE RIGHTS YOU LISTED ABOVE.

(Sorry to shout, but that's the key point).

If you live in Vermont but go on a vacation to Las Vegas, and your legal same-sex spouse gets hit by a drunk driver and ends up in the hospital, you will not have the legal rights that you would if you were "one man and one woman".

The fight continues...

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