High Court Ruling on Same-Sex Unions Could Affect Public Health
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in a case that will determine whether Congress can deny federal benefits -- including health coverage -- to legally wed same-sex couples under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the New York Times reports (Liptak, New York Times, 3/27).
About the DOMA Case
Because of DOMA, same-sex married couples are prevented from accessing benefits under more than 1,000 references to marital status in federal laws and regulations, including those that cover medical and family leave and have tax implications (Barnes, Washington Post, 3/27).
For example, private-sector companies increasingly are offering health benefits to same-sex married partners of their employees, but DOMA prevents the federal government from treating the marriages under the same tax rules as heterosexual marriages, which means the same-sex spouses' coverage gets treated like taxable income.
In addition, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) said DOMA impeded efforts in that state to implement universal health coverage because the legislation prevents same-sex couples from being eligible for Medicaid and Medicare benefits.
In a friend of the court brief, AFL-CIO and other labor groups also noted that DOMA denies federal workers health coverage for their same-sex partners and their partners' children (Cheney, Politico, 3/27).
Observers say that a Supreme Court ruling against DOMA would result in all federal agencies having to provide benefits to same-sex spouses (Hicks, "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 3/27).
Ruling Could Have Public Health Implications, Observers Say
Meanwhile, the case over DOMA and another case the high court is considering about California's Proposition 8 could have public health implications, according to some observers, the Los Angeles Times' "Booster Shots" reports.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case against Prop. 8, which states that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognized in the state.
According to "Booster Shots," research from physicians, psychologists and others has indicated that legalizing same-sex marriage could have tangible health benefits for the couples and their children.
For example, a study published in February in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that same-sex couples unable to marry were more likely to report their health as "poor" or "fair" than married heterosexual couples.
The authors concluded that "[l]egalizing same-sex marriage could provide ... important socioeconomic and psychological benefits often associated with different-sex marriage -- such as partner health insurance benefits, joint tax returns and increased relationship support -- that may directly and indirectly influence the health of individuals in same-sex unions."
In addition, a separate study published last month in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that "[b]eing in a legally recognized same-sex relationship, marriage in particular, appeared to diminish mental health differentials between heterosexuals and lesbian, gay and bisexual persons" (Kaplan, "Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 3/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.