By Debbie Gregory.
The Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. The ruling declared that it was a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.
DOMA was enacted September 21, 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton. DOMA is a United States federal law that allows states to refuse to recognize same sex marriages performed under the laws of other states.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26, 2013, regarding same-sex marriage created historic gains for gay rights. The ruling allowed full federal recognition of legally married gay couples and an opening for such unions to resume in California, the nation’s most-populous state.
With its ruling, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, mandating that gay couples married in states where it is legal must receive the same federal health, tax, Social Security and other benefits that heterosexual couples receive.
LGBT groups and their allies have been pushing the Defense Department to extend benefits to gay service members since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed.
In a memo, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote that if DOMA was ever repealed, “it will be the policy of the Department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits.”
The Supreme Court ruling on DOMA means gay couples living in one of the 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is legal, will soon see a windfall from Uncle Sam.
But because government agencies follow contradictory statutes and regulations, gay couples living in the 38 states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage may only be treated to a fraction of the federal spousal benefits, according to activists.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also responded to the DOMA decision last week, announcing that the military will extend benefits to the same-sex spouses of service members as soon as possible. This includes the right to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery and to access housing together. Spouses will also be able to receive identification cards and the on-base benefits that are associated with that access.
As departments continue to adjust to the Supreme Court’s decision, more details will likely come to light about just how the end of DOMA will change the lives of same-sex couples. As evidenced from just the first five days of a post-DOMA country, it’s clear that change will be significant.