Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA, Could Affect Health Benefits
Because of DOMA, married same-sex couples cannot access 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 (California Healthline, 3/27).
In the majority opinion -- written by Justice Anthony Kennedy -- the justices ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional because it violates a person's Fifth Amendment right to equal liberty (McCloskey/Carroll, Stars and Stripes, 6/26). Kennedy wrote, "By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute" violates the Constitution (Savage, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/26).
The justices noted that states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some have chosen to permit same-sex marriages. They wrote that DOMA discriminates against same-sex couples who are legally married by refusing to recognize state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. The justices noted that the ruling only applies to same-sex couples who are legally married (Howe, SCOTUSblog, 6/26).
Ruling's Effects on Health Benefits
The ruling means more than 100,000 same-sex couples who are legally married could be eligible for tax breaks, employer-sponsored health coverage and other benefits that are available to other married couples, "Politics Now" reports ("Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/26).
According to NBC News, same-sex couples who are married and living in one of at least 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is legal soon will be eligible for the spousal benefits they have been denied, including:
- Family and medical leave;
- Internal Revenue Service tax credits;
- Survivors' benefits; and
- Tax-free employer-provided health coverage (NBC News, 6/26).
Private-sector companies increasingly are offering health benefits to same-sex married partners of their employees, but DOMA had prevented the federal government from treating the marriages under the same tax rules as heterosexual marriages. As a result, the same-sex spouses' coverage has been treated like taxable income (California Healthline, 3/27).
However, those living in the 38 states that do not allow same-sex marriage will likely see fewer benefits (NBC News, 6/26)
Decision Could Reduce Medicare, Medicaid Spending
The ruling also could reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending because same-sex couples' joint incomes may make them ineligible for certain benefits, Politico reports. For example, a couple might be less likely to qualify for help paying for Medicare prescription drugs when the program considers joint income. Similarly, U.S. residents are less likely to qualify for Medicaid when married because their joint income is more likely to surpass states' eligibility limits (Nather, Politico, 6/26).
Military Benefits Affected
Prior to leaving his office, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a memo that said if the Supreme Court were to strike down DOMA, "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 their sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be given full military benefits."
After the ruling was released, a DOD spokesperson said the department will begin reviewing its policies and making appropriate changes.
However, there still are several hurdles to overcome before the policy can be fully changed, such as altering the military's personnel system to allow same-sex spouses to register, according to David McKean -- director of government affairs and policy for Outserve-SLDN, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian military members.
In addition, McKean noted that the Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA did not invalidate a law governing the Department of Veteran Affairs, which defines a spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a wife or husband" (Stars and Stripes, 6/26).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.