June 26, 2013 -- The federal government will now include gay spouses in its definition of marriage. The Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, on Wednesday.
What does this really mean for gay couples?
Since the ruling simply expands the federal definition of marriage and does not legalize gay marriage itself, couples will still have to contend with state and local laws in places that don't recognize gay marriage and they will have to be married in states that recognize gay marriage to access federal benefits.
That being said, here's a roundup of a few of the more than 1,000 benefits federally recognized gay married couples will now be able to access.
1. Green Cards Gay binational couples can sponsor their spouses. Before DOMA's repeal, only heterosexual married couples could sponsor spouses. Gay couples were not eligible for green cards and undocumented spouses faced deportation. ABC/Univision covered some of the day-to-day challenges in March. Now, gay married couples will be able to apply for green cards for their spouses.
2. Joint federal income taxes, social security survivor benefits and estate taxes Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case, was forced to pay more than $363,000 in estate taxes after her wife Thea Spyer passed away because DOMA didn't recognize their marriage even though New York, the state they lived in, did. Now, Windsor will receive a refund of the taxes she was forced to pay on her inheritance of her wife's estate, and gay spouses, like straight spouses, will be able to inherit a deceased spouse's estate without a tax penalty. They will also be eligible to file joint federal income tax returns, which could significantly reduce their tax liability, and access social security survivor benefits.
3. Unpaid Leave under Family and Medical Leave Act The FMLA allows employees to take unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons. Many people choose to take leave after the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for an ailing spouse. The law grants legally married spouses up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, but it did not cover gay couples due to DOMA. While the Department of Labor issued guidance in 2010 that effectively allowed same-sex parents to take time off to care for a new child, DOMA still prevented them from taking time off to care for a sick husband or wife. That will change now that DOMA has been overturned.
4. Veteran spousal and widow benefits With DOMA's repeal, veteran spousal and widow benefits will be available to same-sex married couples. Prior to the ruling, when a gay member of the military died, his husband did not have access to the survivor benefits – everything from Dependency and Indemnity Compensation to home loans - that heterosexual widows could access. Now they will be eligible for the same benefits as opposite-sex couples.
A Word of Caution: The Adoption Example This ruling does not automatically make all benefits accessible to gay couples everywhere. Many states handle adoptions, and just because the federal government now recognizes gay married couples does not mean that all states will do the same. In other words, in states where same-sex adoption is prohibited, the ruling may have little impact in terms of adoption laws because they are not federal. Some states restrict adoption to heterosexual couples, meaning that not only can gay couples not always adopt, when one member of a gay couple has a child, the other is not always recognized as a legal parent. When an opposite-sex couple has or jointly adopts a child, both partners have always been automatically considered legal parents. As a result, even if they split up, both remain legal parents. That is not the case for gay couples. And if one same-sex parent dies but is not recognized in a state as a legal parent, the child may not have access to survivor benefits.