Sizing up personal after-effects of the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling

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July 02, 2013|By Douglas Nivens II, For The Baltimore Sun

Like tens of thousands of other viewers, I was sitting at my job, watching the live posts on SCOTUSblog to hear how the Supreme Court would rule on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the California Prop 8 cases. Then, low and behold, we get the news: The Court struck down Section 3 of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and later, effectively allowed California to begin marriages for same-sex couples.

I didn’t expect a sweeping ruling that would allow marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. If anything, I imagined the Court would at least answer whether sexual orientation deserved heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, as do race, national origin and religion. Instead, the Court sidestepped the issue of heightened scrutiny and focused on the right of the states to define marriage within their borders and the positive benefits of marriage.

Justice Kennedy didn’t describe marriage in terms of popular iconography – weddings, sexual monogamy (or rather monotony) and divorce court. He described it as, “a dignity and status of immense import.” Stemming from this status are “over 1,000 statutes and numerous federal regulations” that are applied to married couples and their children. They include benefits, such as spousal burial at military cemeteries, as well as duties, such as reporting joint income for federal taxes. The effect of marriage is so ever-present in our society that its exclusion of same-sex couples is now a constitutional injury.

Personally, this ruling opens up more issues that E and I must consider. Marriage is, after all, a major economic merger between two distinct households. Our taxes, credit, debt and investments will be affected.

In addition, this decision will affect my options as a federal employee. The Obama Administration had already extended long-term care insurance to same-sex partners, but DOMA prevented the extension of any other benefits. After DOMA, my fiancé will be eligible to join my health, dental and vision insurance benefits as well as my flexible spending account. If I die, he could apply for survivor’s benefits on my Social Security record.

In the past, I’ve been in favor of us going through pre-marital counseling to emotionally prepare us for the long term. Now, I want to expand that counseling to financial planning and legal advice. Thanks to Justice Kennedy, we have new things to consider before our wedding day. With so much at stake, I’m learning quickly that saying “I do” is more than just a vow of mutual love and companionship: It’s a business decision.

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