Same Sex Marriage and Federal Benefits

Sexual orientation no longer plays a role in access to federal benefits. LGBTQ couples can access the same benefits as their opposite-sex peers. This article explores same-sex marriage and federal benefits.

The federal government offers federal benefits and protections to all married couples. These benefits include spousal Social Security, Medicare, marital tax exemptions, and veterans benefits. Before the U. S. Supreme Court removed barriers to marriage equality, these benefits were only for opposite-sex spouses.


Defense of Marriage Act

Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. DOMA allowed states to deny recognition to out-of-state same-sex marriages. DOMA also defined marriage, under federal law, as between a man and a woman. This meant that federal agencies could deny federal benefits to same-sex spouses.

United States v. Windsor

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA in United States v. Windsor. Edith Windsor, a same-sex partner, inherited her late spouse's estate. Windsor claimed a federal surviving spouse tax exemption, which the IRS denied. The IRS denied her claim because Windsor and her spouse were a married same-sex couple.

Although Windsor's marriage was valid in New York, the IRS could only recognize opposite-sex marriages. Under DOMA, the IRS restricted the federal tax exemption to opposite-sex couples.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Windsor. It found Section Three of DOMA unconstitutional because it violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Although many state laws banned gay marriage, this court ruling gave gay couples access to federal spousal benefits.

Obergefell v. Hodges

The Obergefell decision legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. This Supreme Court decision ruled that same-sex marriage bans violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Its decision granted same-sex couples equality in all areas of American life, including access to federal benefits.

Federal Benefits

As the introduction mentions, married couples have the same access to federal benefits. These benefits include social security, tax, and veteran benefits. This section explores these benefits.

Social Security Benefits

A married couple can benefit significantly from expanded Social Security benefit eligibility.

Same-sex married couples can do the following:

  • Collect survivor benefits when their spouse dies
  • Collect retirement benefits based on their spouse's Social Security retirement payments, and
  • And receive benefits as a dependent should a spouse become disabled.

The Social Security Administration also extended eligibility to non-marital relationships, such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Tax Benefits

Marital status plays a significant role in the federal tax system. After DOMA, sexual orientation was no long a barrier to IRS recognition. Same-sex married couples now enjoy federal estate and gift tax exemptions and may file joint tax returns.

Veteran Benefits

Benefits for veterans include health insurance, educational assistance, and loans. VA loans may help qualifying veterans or surviving spouses get a home loan guarantee.

Other Federal Benefits

Same-sex married couples can receive certain immigration and federal employee benefits. U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents may petition U.S. Customs and Immigration services for a family-based visa or fiancé(e) 's visa.

Health care and pension are a few benefits available to federal government employees and their spouses.

Get Legal Help

Federal recognition of marriage impacts many areas of life, from taxes to burial rights. A qualified family law attorney can help you navigate the federal benefits and protections available to you and your spouse.

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