HOUSTON ― For many same-sex couples, anxiously awaiting rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court involving gay marriage, the issue is about more than a marriage certificate – it’s also about health care.
The high court ruled struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which limited recognition of marriage to that between one man and one woman. For same-sex couples this definition precludes them from the 1,138 marriage-based benefits granted by federal government such as spousal health benefits for federal employees, retirement and survivor benefits under the Social Security system, and joint filing status with the IRS.
In a 5-4 decision DOMA the Supreme Court ruled that the law is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. The majority went on to say ”DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”
Legacy Community Health Services Executive Director Katy Caldwell said, “This is a huge step forward for the LGBT community and for our entire country. By recognizing same sex marriages, not only are same-sex couples recognized and supported by society, they will have access to many benefits that until today were are only available to married hetrosexual couples. These include hospital visitation rights during an illness, taxation and inheritance rights, access to family health coverage. This ruling will allow more same-sex couples to access employer based health insurance and benefit benefit from regular medical care and not live in fear of being one hospitalization away from bankruptcy. More over allowing same-sex couples to marry would gives them access to the social support that already facilitates and strengthens heterosexual marriages, with all of the psychological and physical health benefits associated with that support.”
Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, DOMA effectively blocks LGBT couples from many health related benefits. For example:
• Social Security survivors’ benefits when a spouse passes away
• Exemption from taxes on employer-provided health insurance
• Access to COBRA continuation of health insurance coverage
• Family and medical leave when a spouse becomes sick
• Federal-employee spousal retirement and health benefits
• Benefits for service members’ spouses
Caldwell stated that Legacy believes that “Quality comprehensive health care is a fundamental human right that grounds an individual physically, emotionally and spiritually. Legacy has a strong committed to serving the LGBT community. The push for marriage equality is one of the key civil rights struggles of our time. Today the Supreme Court has confirmed that marriage is one of the basic civil rights guaranteed by our Constitution and our country has taken a giant step towards the promise that all men ( and women) are created equal.
Across America public opinion on gay marriage has quickly shifted in recent years. A poll this year by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public life found that 50% of Americans support gay marriage, up from 39% in 2008. To date, courts, legislatures and voters in 12 states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. The issue will continue to play out state by state as state legislatures address the implications on state law of today’s rulings.