Many have asked about the rights and benefits that are denied to same-sex couples. Following is a summary report from the GAO of the 1,138 federal rights and benefits provided via DOMA to married couples. These rights don’t even begin to address the those granted to married couples by the state.
Defense of Marriage Act: Update to Prior Report
GAO-04-353R January 23, 2004
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provides definitions of “marriage” and “spouse” that are to be used in construing the meaning of a federal law and, thus, affect the interpretation of a wide variety of federal laws in which marital status is a factor. In 1997, we issued a report identifying 1,049 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor. In preparing the 1997 report, we limited our search to laws enacted prior to September 21, 1996, the date DOMA was signed into law. Recently, Congress asked us to update our 1997 compilation. We have identified 120 statutory provisions involving marital status that were enacted between September 21, 1996, and December 31, 2003. During the same period, 31 statutory provisions involving marital status were repealed or amended in such a way as to eliminate marital status as a factor. Consequently, as of December 31, 2003, our research identified a total of 1,138 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges.
Click to download the full report.
What’s the price of not having equal rights? According to the New York Times, it could be upwards of $467,000. That’s how much the paper estimates a gay couple will pay — in a worse case scenario — over the span of their lifetimes for extra costs related to health care, legal affairs, and other issues. Huh, it sure is expensive to be denied the more than 1,100 benefits granted to straight married couples.
To figure this dollar amount out, the Times created a same-sex couple whose real life situation might mirror that of a straight couple. They looked at the three states with the largest LGBT populations – New York, California and Florida — and merged data from those three states to determine annual gross incomes, and other various cost of living expenses. And not surprisingly, they found that being gay is expensive. Damn expensive, especially if you’re a family.
The biggest expenses that gay couples face, at least in the Times’ hypothetical picture, is in the areas of health care, social security and estate taxes. Health care is a crazy variable, because it’s dependent on a person’s employer, but in the worst case scenario gay couples pay more than $211,000 alone for health care than straight couples over the course of their lifetimes, a shocking figure to say the least.
Social Security is a big bust for gay couples, since the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. This lack of recognition means that gay couples don’t receive a myriad of government benefits that straight couples receive.
And then there’s the estate tax, which might be the most viscerally unfair example of how straight married couples have it pretty good when it comes to U.S. tax laws. Straight married couples can transfer an unlimited amount of assets to each other during their lives and at death without having to pay any sort of estate tax. Gay couples? Not so much. Same-sex couples have to shell out a boatload in federal estate taxes, at least if the estate passes an expense threshold. Granted, this really only affects very, very wealthy same-sex couples, but it’s still an example of how unfair the U.S. tax system really is.
The statistics and information in the Times piece are pretty dense, but the bottom line is this: gay couples generally have to pay more throughout their lifetimes because same-sex marriage isn’t legal in the U.S. If the federal government chose to recognize same-sex marriage, then all of these costs or penalties would evaporate. It’s really as simple as that.