Monday, July 1, 2013
What does the DOMA ruling mean for gay couples in Texas?
The federal government is expected to weigh in soon where there is uncertainty.
Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court Justices handed down opinions in two major cases affecting gay marriage in the United States.
In United States v Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Now, all legally-married same-sex couples will be eligible for federal benefits. This includes gay couples living in Texas. The federal government will recognize your marriage even if your state does not.
In simple terms: If two men got married in Iowa (where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009) and then move to Texas, they will still be eligible for federal benefits.
… well, most federal benefits.
This is where things get sticky. There are some federal benefits that are only available to couples whose marriage is recognized by the state in which they currently reside. That could change if the Obama Administration declares a uniform standard for federal benefits.
“It’s expected that most of the federal agencies that govern these benefits will issue opinions as to how the government will handle accessing these for these particular couples,” said Jessica Dixon Weaver, assistant professor of Law at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law. She continued, “The pace will flow until everything is taken care of. I guess there is some question as to how quickly the Obama administration will act, but the law is on the side of the same-sex couples who have been legally married.”
All of that is based on the Justices’ opinion in United States v. Windsor. The Justices struck down Section Three of DOMA, which defined the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman. It said that is “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
So … can gay couples marry in Texas? No.
The Supreme Court did not strike down Section Two of DOMA, which says that states are not required to recognize marriages from other states. In other words, Texas is not required to recognize a gay couple’s legal Iowa marriage. The Supreme Court decided that states should be allowed to decide on same-sex marriage.
In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court could have ruled that all state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Instead, it sent the case back to the appeals court. So, the Texas Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect.
“There will likely be another case that might come up before the Supreme Court that will deal with the issue of whether the bans against same-sex marriage are constitutional, broadly across the country,” said Weaver.
Until then, don’t expect the law to change in Texas. You might see some other legal battles, though, as a result of the DOMA decision.
“Same sex couples who were legally married who are here may challenge their right to divorce or maybe to change custody of children,” said Weaver.
In 2010, a Texas appeals court ruled that a gay couple, who married in Massachusetts, could not get a divorce. It said that, because Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, it had no jurisdiction rule on a divorce.
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