DOMA Repeal Testimony Depicts Monumental Hardships in LGBT Community

The Williams Institute submitted written testimony to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary for its Hearing on “S.598, The Respect for Marriage Act: Assessing the Impact of DOMA on American Families.” The testimony summarized demographic data about same-sex couples and the serious financial, legal, social and health consequences of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for them and their families.

Most notable:

• There are 581,300 same-sex couples in the United States, including 50,000 to 80,000 legally married same-sex and another 85,000 who are in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships.

• Approximately 20% of same-sex couples are raising nearly 250,000 children.

• Almost one-fourth of same-sex partners are people of color.

• Over 7% of individuals in same-sex couples are veterans of the U.S. armed forces.

• Same-sex couples live in every congressional district and in almost every county in the United States.

In addition, the testimony summarized Williams Institute research documenting a number of ways that DOMA results in legal, financial, social, and psychological hardships for many same-sex couples and their families. 

These include:

• Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Benefits.  Nearly 430,000 same-sex partners remain barred from taking leave to care for a same-sex spouse under the FMLA, even if they marry.

• Benefits for Spouses of Federal Employees.  The same-sex spouses and partners of over 30,000 federal employees are ineligible for important benefits available to different-sex married spouses.

• Veteran Partner Benefits.  Same-sex spouses and partners of nearly 68,000 veterans are barred from a variety of benefits including pensions, educational assistance, and vocational training available to different-sex spouses.

• Taxation of Employee Health Benefits for a Same-Sex Spouse.  When private employers offer health insurance to same-sex spouses and domestic partners, federal law taxes these benefits. Approximately 41,000 employees with a same-sex spouse or domestic partner pay, on average, over ,000 more in taxes per year than an employee receiving the same health benefits for a different-sex spouse.

• Spousal Impoverishment Protections for Medicaid Long Term Care (LTC).  Medicaid LTC beneficiaries may have to use some of their spouse’s income and assets to pay for LTC. Federal law requires states to allow different-sex spouses to retain income and assets to protect them from destitution. However, about 1,700-3,000 individuals whose same-sex spouses or partners receive Medicaid-financed LTC are not protected by these spousal impoverishment provisions.

• Estate Tax.  Over the next two years, members of same-sex couples who will pay the federal estate tax will pay, on average, more than million more than a survivor of a different-sex spouse because they do not qualify for the federal estate tax spousal exemption.

• Social Security Survivor Benefits.  Unlike different-sex spouses, same-sex spouses cannot continue receiving their spouse’s social security payments after their spouse’s death. This results in a loss, on average, of over ,700 for a same-sex spouse that receives lower social security payments than the deceased spouse.

• Immigration for Bi-National Couples.  Nearly 26,000 same-sex couples in the United States are bi-national couples who could be forced to separate because they cannot participate in green-card and accelerated citizenship mechanisms offered to non-citizen spouses of American citizens.

• Social Stigma.  Research shows that laws such as DOMA produce stigma that has serious adverse impacts on the health of LGBT people by causing stress and disease. A Williams Institute survey of people married to a same-sex spouse in Massachusetts found that couples gain social support from their families and have a greater level of mutual commitment when they are allowed to marry.

The Williams Institute testimony concluded that DOMA has also impaired the ability of researchers to assess its impact on same-sex couples and their families. Although the U.S. Census Bureau has begun to reevaluate its policy of not counting married same-sex couples as such, a legacy of DOMA is evident in a general resistance on the part of federal statistical agencies to collect detailed, accurate, and reliable data on same-sex couples and their families. This means that, in spite of the efforts of the Institute, policy debates on laws like DOMA have too often been driven as much by anecdote and stereotype as by sound social science research and facts.

The Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy advances law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates its work through a variety of education programs and media to judges, legislators, lawyers, other policy makers, and the public.



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