Same-sex couples in Missouri will now be granted federal benefits open to heterosexual couples.
Although Missouri does not legally recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, an Internal Revenue Service news release from Aug. 29 stated the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act applies in all states.
Legally married same-sex couples will receive federal tax benefits provided to heterosexual marriages and equal Medicare coverage in nursing homes.
This is the first reaction from the IRS, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Health & Human Services to the June 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down some restrictions in the Defense of Marriage Act.
“Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes,” a Treasury Department news release stated.
In terms of same-sex marriages, if a couple is married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, then moves to a state that does not, in the eyes of the federal government, they do not become unmarried, said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.
“This obviously gives a degree of predictability and security to these couples who are trying to do what every other family wants to do,” Mittman said.
It was a shock that the administration was able to react to the DOMA decision so quickly, and it’s a big deal for Missourians, said Katie Stuckenschneider, communications organizer for PROMO, a Missouri LGBT advocacy group.
“Basically what it means is, if you go and get married right now in Iowa legally to your partner, you can come back (to Missouri) and file for taxes,” Stuckenshneider said.
The actions the federal government took are an important step in the right direction, Mittman said.
“For all those lesbian and gay couples who have made the important step to recognize and formalize their love and their family, any step forward is an important step forward,” Mittman said.
According to a memo released by the Health and Human Services Department, under current law a same-sex couple “may have faced the choice of receiving coverage in a nursing home away from their same-sex spouse, or disenrolling from the Medicare Advantage plan which would have meant paying more out-of-pocket for care in the same nursing home as their same-sex spouse.”
Under the law, Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan are entitled to care in whichever nursing facility their spouse resides.
Now, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, “(this) guarantee of coverage applies equally to couples who are in a legally recognized same-sex marriage, regardless of where they live.”
ACLU of Eastern Missouri is teaming up with PROMO. They hope to spread the word about all the news coming from the federal level. They will host a series of town hall meetings taking place throughout Missouri and an online webinar Oct. 4, Mittman said.
Additionally, PROMO is trying to generate awareness, Stuckenscneider said.
“PROMO and the ACLU are working together to ensure that anyone who wants to help in this important social progress, this important constitutional rights and civil liberties progress, can be part of the solution,” Mittman said.
The plan is to provide people in Missouri with accurate information in terms of legal options and the options available for advocacy, Mittman said.
“This is such an important area of the law that is developing and changing, even as we watch, we want to make sure everyone in Missouri has the same and the correct information,” Mittman said.
At the town hall meetings there will be an attorney from the ACLU to help field any questions people may have, Stuckenscneider said.
The steps made in favor of same-sex marriages are not necessarily extended to all same-sex couples.
“(The DOMA) ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships recognized under state law,” stated the IRS news release.
Although this may be a disappointment for couples that have civil unions, overall this is still a positive, Stuckenschneider said.
“We have said since the beginning that we are pushing for marriage, full equality, not just civil union,” she said. “It’s huge that federally the IRS is recognizing something like this from any standpoint.”
The first real steps forward in granting some sort of legal recognition of same-sex couples were the creation of domestic partnership registries, Mittman said.
The IRS needs to make a decision about whether or not federal benefits flow strictly to marriage or other forms of relationship recognition as well, Mittman said.
“I think what this says is that, given that the federal government is focusing on marriage, the formal, legal status that most families know and recognize, it really becomes incumbent upon all 50 states in the United States to allow lesbian and gay families to have that status as well,” Mittman said.