FAQ: After DOMA—What It Means for You
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In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic decision to strike down Section 3 of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Lambda Legal and 10 other national LGBT advocacy organizations jointly issued a series of factsheets to provide guidance to same-sex couples and their families as they navigate accessing federal rights, benefits, and protections.
There are more than 1,100 places in federal law where a protection or responsibility is based on marital status. The ruling striking down DOMA will not be effective until 25 days from the decision, but even when effective, federal agencies—large bureaucracies—may need and take some time to change forms, implement procedures, train personnel, and efficiently incorporate same-sex couples into the spousal-based system.
Until same-sex couples can marry in every state in the nation, there will be uncertainty about the extent to which same-sex spouses will receive federal marital-based protections nationwide. For federal programs that assess marital status based on the law of a state that does not respect marriages of same-sex couples, those state laws will likely pose obstacles for legally married couples and surviving spouses in accessing federal protections and responsibilities.
The fact sheets are intended to provide general information regarding major areas of federal marriage-based rights and protections offered by federal agencies. Before making a decision, it is essential that same-sex couples consult an attorney for individualized legal advice. People must make careful decisions when and where to marry, even as advocates work towards equality.