Congrats! You and your partner have access to federal marriage benefits!!!

Alright…now for some legal stuff. As I said, June 26th, 2013 was a big day. But why? It wasn’t that gays and lesbians couldn’t get married at all; we could… in several states in fact. And those couples that lived in those states were entitled to all of the same state rights and benefits given to their straight counterparts.  The problem was the validity of those marriages in regards to the federal government and the vast majority of the states that didn’t recognize same-sex marriages.


In 1996, The United States Congress passed (and President Bill Clinton signed into law) the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which (1) prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for the purposes of federal benefits and (2) absolved states from acknowledging those marriages as well. Without valid marriages, same-sex couples were not entitled to many legal benefits and protections like social security survivorship benefits, Tenancy by the Entirety property titling, or the unlimited marital deduction.

United States v. Windsor

The United States v. Windsor case challenged the constitutionality of the part of DOMA that related to federal benefits.  Edith Windsor had to pay $363,053 in estate taxes because she couldn’t claim the survivorship exemption for surviving spouses when her partner died and left Ms. Windsor her entire estate. She couldn’t claim the benefit because of DOMA, despite being legally married in Canada and the state of New York recognizing that marriage.

The Court found that denying benefits through this part of the law – Section 3 – violated due process and equal protection of those couples that were married in states the recognized their union. (Note the Windsor case had no affect on the states ability to recognize or not recognize same-sex marriages.)

United States Treasury Extends Benefits

Because of Windsor, same-sex couples married in jurisdictions that legally recognize their marriage now get the same federal benefits as any other legally married couple. The U.S. Department of Treasury and the Internal Service have gone a step further and said that their agency will also recognize those marriages legally entered into, even if that couple resides in a state that does not recognize the marriage.

In short, gay and lesbian couples can marry in any jurisdiction that legally recognizes same-sex marriages – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey (pending), New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, along with District of Columbia – and still receive federal benefits and protections no matter where they live. That’s a pretty big deal.

Unfortunately Ben and I don’t live in one of those states. While the Illinois legislature has passed a Civil Unions bill allowing “marriage like” benefits, they have been dragging their feet on the marriage issue. And as the IRS points, we have to be legally married in order to receive any benefits.  This opens a whole host of other issues we will get to later on.