What does the repeal of DOMA mean for families in the US?


In June 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. What does the repeal of DOMA mean for families living in the US? Pink Families highlights some of the changes.

Previously denied rights due to DOMA

Before DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, same-sex married couples were denied a range of federal programs granted to all different-sex married couples. This included rights related to tax, bankruptcy, immigration, health care planning, veteran benefits and much more. In essence, DOMA not only denied choice related to the option of marriage for same-sex couples, but it also disadvantaged children with same-sex parents.

Listen to the news on the ruling on DOMA.

New possibilities for same-sex couples and their families

The repeal of DOMA means that same-sex families will now be entitled to federal programs similar to their straight married counterparts. Full benefits to same-sex partners of military personnel will also be extended.


Same-sex married couples will be treated in the same way as heterosexual married couples when it comes to income and estate taxes, for example. One of the cases at the heart of DOMA, United States versus Windsor, highlights the past potential financial burden on same-sex couples. Edie Windsor, the long-term partner and wife of Thea Spyer, had to pay more than $363,053 in federal estate taxes just because they were a same-sex couple.

Listen to what Edie Windsor has to say about the outcome of the DOMA case in the video below.

Prior to the repeal of DOMA, same-sex couples were not allowed the option of filing jointly for their tax returns. This meant that same-sex couples, prior to DOMA, weren’t able to qualify for less tax through filing a joint return, if it was in their best interests to do so. Prior to DOMA, same-sex couples were therefore potentially disadvantaged financially through their tax returns. This is one example of how things will get better for gay families because of the changes to DOMA. That is, same-sex married couples can now benefit financially from the state in the way that different-sex married couples do. In some cases, this will mean more money in the pocket of same-sex parented families.

Medicare entitlements and social security

Now that DOMA has been repealed, legally same-sex married couples will also be entitled to the same Medicare entitlements and social security entitlements, including payments after the death of a same-sex partner, for example.

Previously the US Social Security Administration stated that “under Federal law an individual whose claim for benefits is based on a State recognized same-sex marriage or having the same status as spouse for State inheritance purposes cannot meet the statutory gender-based definition of widow or widower of the worker, including one who is divorced.” However, this will now be changed as the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legally permissible.

Importantly, the repeal of DOMA removes gender-based restrictions when it comes to understanding who your spouse can be. This change in reliance on gender-based definitions is a good development for transgender and intersex people, who often encounter problems due to gender-based restrictions. This change will mean that transgender people in same-sex marriages will be entitled to the same federal benefits and programs that their different-sex married counterparts are entitled to.

Immigration for same-sex couples

Before DOMA, same-sex couples were also not granted the same entitlements when it came to immigration. However with the repeal of DOMA, same-sex couples will be able to apply for visas for their same-sex partner.

This change will allow many same-sex couples to unite in the US, similarly to straight couples. This change will therefore help families overcome prohibitive immigration barriers. These changes have the substantial potential to minimize the distress and upheaval often involved with intimate and committed relationships that occur across national borders. These changes will help keep LGBTI families together.

What it means for families in the military

Recently, at the direction of President Obama, a review of all of the entitlements for same-sex parent families in the military was conducted. This led to a statement being issued on February 11th 2013 by the Secretary of Defense. In this statement the changes that could lawfully be made to all entitlements to make sure that same-sex partnered military staff had the same entitlements as their straight counterparts were outlined. President Obama wanted entitlements to be the same for all military personnel, regardless of sexual orientation. In the statement it was clear that multiple changes to ensure that same-sex domestic partners and their children would be granted the same entitlements and benefits as different-sex married couples and their children would be made.

The Secretary of Defense also stated: “In the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense, it will be the policy of the Department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits.”

When the statement was issued the Secretary of Defense said that: “Today, our military leaders are ensuring that all America’s sons and daughters who volunteer to serve in our Nation in uniform are treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

On the day that DOMA was repealed, President Obama also issued a statement. President Obama said: “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

“This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better….

“The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.”


Secretary of Defense. Memorandum For Secretaries Of The Military Departments Acting Under Secretary of Defense For Personnel And Readiness. Extending Benefits To Same-Sex Domestic Partners Of Military Members. 2013 Feb 11.

President Barack Obama. Statement by the President on the Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act. 2013 Jun 26.

Listen to what Kris Perry, the same-sex partner of Sandy Stier and one the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 lawsuit, has to say about the repeal of DOMA. Kris and Sandy have been together since 1997 and they are the parents of four boys.

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