Moderated by Rick Badie
The U.S. Supreme Court stands poised to decide the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Today, a gay civil rights advocate calls the law discriminatory, outdated and unfair, particularly for same-sex married couples during tax season. A supporter of the federal law deems it necessary to preserve an “ageless institution.”
Commenting is open below.
By Jeff Graham
While the core value of the fight for marriage equality is about the right to marry the person you love, the legal commitments that come with this right are very real to the hundreds of thousands of loving couples who are currently being discriminated against under federal law. According to the General Accounting Office, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) restricts same-sex couples from accessing the benefits, rights and privileges housed in 1,138 federal statutory provisions.
To marry, a same-sex couple must travel to a state where it is legal — the closest of which, for Georgia couples, is Maryland, 700 miles away. If the couple lives in Georgia or any other state that doesn’t recognize marriage equality, they could spend up to $10,000 in legal fees to establish some of the rights that come with a civil marriage license.
Once the couple is married, discrimination continues. If an individual wants to add his or her same-sex spouse to their employer-provided health insurance plan, that additional coverage is not tax-exempt as it would be for an opposite-sex couple. Instead, these benefits are treated as though they were additional wages, adding a tax burden that averages more than $1,000 per couple per year.
As a result of DOMA and IRS regulations, same-sex couples must navigate a maze of tax laws other couples do not. When a legally married same-sex couple files their tax returns each year, the burden of filing for that couple is heavier than for their opposite-sex friends and actually requires them to lie on their federal tax forms.
For example, a same-sex couple who was wed and lives in Vermont, a state where their union is legally recognized, must file their federal returns individually and their state return jointly. However, in order to properly file a joint state return, they must also complete a dummy joint federal return. To file a federal return, they must lie and state that they are single. They are also ineligible for certain tax benefits and claims specific to marriage.
Another important tax issue that faces same-sex couples is the one at the heart of the DOMA case. When a person dies, that person’s assets are transferred to the spouse without being subjected to the estate tax. When the couple is the same sex, as was the case with Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, the surviving spouse is hit with an estate tax for the transfer of assets. In Windsor’s case, the tax was $363,000 — a fine she was forced to pay to stay in the home she shared with her wife formore than 40 years.
The term “marriage” certainly has emotional and religious connotations for many people. Under DOMA, it has significant legal ramifications. The U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. These denied benefits make it clear that DOMA is outdated, unfair and unconstitutional.
Jeff Graham is executive director of Georgia Equality.
By Kay Godwin
Centuries ago, Aristotle wisely challenged the social re-engineering plans of his teacher Plato. He cautioned, “Let us remember that we should not disregard the experience of ages.” As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the Defense of Marriage Act, Aristotle’s wisdom resounds through time.
Aristotle rejected Plato’s idealistic “Republic,” which would have remolded traditional families, embraced eugenics, and rearranged the entire order of society, creating a cascade of ethical dilemmas from the loss of private property to multiple state-arranged “marriages” to incestuous relationships. Aristotle understood that such experimentation came at great cost. Radically altering the norms of society has consequences, intended and unintended.
Whether today’s experiment with same-sex unions is contained at the state level or not, such experiments extract an enormous price from society. Wherever marriage is redefined to require the inclusion of same-sex unions, the law will denigrate traditional marriage and will penalize those who insist that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Competing claims about marriage will never exist in harmony, and the battleground will be in our day care centers, schools, churches, civic organizations, workplaces and all our government institutions.
Should DOMA fall, it will pit state against state. Though some states will maintain the traditional definition of marriage, if federal law allows a counterfeit definition to include same-sex “marriage,” then states like Georgia would still be required to subsidize the federal costs in states that have embraced the new practice. If same-sex unions were to have the force of federal law behind them within the tax code and government programs, there is little that could prevent the federal government from mandating that all our civic and social institutions, or even private businesses, make accommodations in parallel fashion.
As is already being observed in states that have redefined marriage, people who express the view that marriage is exclusively for a man and a woman will find that their freedom of speech and freedom of religion will be judged as pernicious forms of marriage discrimination.
Non-profits that uphold the exclusive claim of marriage between one man and one woman will risk their tax-exempt status. Public employees who reject the idea of same-sex marriage will be forced to undergo sensitivity training or risk being fired from their jobs. Business owners may risk being sued if they refuse to bake wedding cakes or print invitations or take pictures for same-sex ceremonies. Public schools, all of which take federal funds, may be forced to incorporate instruction about same-sex marriage against the religious convictions of parents.
DOMA rightly recognizes marriage as the ageless institution created between one man and one woman. Those claiming marriage equality for same-sex partners are making an unjust claim on territory that is not theirs. This is evident because the claim can only be had at great expense to others and the whole of society. Americans should consider the dangerous consequences of redefining such a fundamental institution as marriage. We disregard such costs at our peril.
Kay Godwin is co-founder of Georgia Conservatives in Action.