What DOMA Does


by John Tyler Connoley

July 27, 2004


Last week, 233 Congressional Representatives voted to limit the power of the courts (even the Supreme Court) to hear cases involving the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. The week before that, the Federal Marriage Amendment was defeated in the Senate -- although 48 Senators voted for it.


When the "Defense of Marriage" politicians are asked what they stand for, they generally respond that they're protecting traditional marriage, which sounds a little nebulous to me. So, I thought I'd help them out by describing some of the concrete things the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Federal Marriage Amendment do.


Since July 4th, I've been incredibly sick. I came down with some kind of stomach bug, and it simply wouldn't go away. I'd feel better for a day or two, and then I'd get sick again. I'm finally feeling better now, but I never went to a doctor. That's because I don't have health insurance, and wasn't sure we could afford a trip to the hospital. Since I work out of the house, I have two choices for insurance: buy an expensive individual policy, or go on my spouse's work insurance. Unfortunately, I can't go on my spouse's work insurance because he's a man; without the ability to get a civil marriage license, we don't count as family under work policy. Eventually, we plan to buy an individual policy for me, but it's simply out of our budget at the moment.


So, one thing the DOMA does is keep people like me off the company insurance.


Another feature of the DOMA is extra legal hassles and fees for same-sex couples. When my spouse and I decided to have a religious wedding, we spent a chunk of money and time making sure we had our legal affairs in order. We needed medical powers of attorney to make sure we could see each other in the hospital if something happened. We also needed papers giving one another the right to claim the other's body and make funeral arrangements when we die. As legal strangers living together, all our assets would go to our birth families upon our deaths, without the presence of legal wills -- and this includes the things we own together like our house and car.


The whole process of giving same-sex couples limited rights to each other's property and hospital rooms generally costs about $500. And, now that we've moved to another state, we will have to do it over again.


But it's not just higher legal fees. The DOMA also ensures that same-sex couples get a lower return on their tax dollars. Even though my spouse and I have both paid into Social Security since we got our first jobs at sixteen, if one of us were to die we would be unable to claim familial benefits. No matter how long we live together and support one another, we will never be family according to the Social Security Administration.


On the other hand, Rush Limbaugh's third wife will be able to draw on his social security when he dies, because their civil marriage lasted just over ten years. The DOMA, of course, allows Limbaugh to get as many civil marriage licenses as he wants (assuming he gets civil divorces after each one). It also allows his ex-wives to draw on his Social Security using money that I and my spouse paid into the system.


On the tax front, the DOMA ensures that same-sex couples pay special death taxes that people with civil marriage licenses don't have to pay. When one member of a legally married couple dies, the surviving partner not only automatically inherits all the property, but does so tax-free. Not so with same-sex couples. If my spouse happens to die before I do, then I'll have to pay inheritance taxes on half of everything we own together. Again, that includes our house and our car. I'll also have to pay taxes on everything I can't prove belongs exclusively to me. His clothes, his climbing books collection, the table we bought in Mexico, the pot we bought from a local artist. If it doesn't have my name on it, I pay taxes on it.


Finally, the DOMA keeps children in foster care or orphanages, rather than allowing stable, loving couples to adopt them.


At some point my spouse and I would like to adopt. There are so many children in the foster system and in orphanages, and we feel it would be good for us to give some of these kids a loving home. We both had good parents who were great role models, and we believe we'd make good parents as well. Unfortunately, it's very difficult for same-sex couples to adopt children, without the right to civil marriage. Although my spouse and I don't live in one of the states, such as Florida, that bans same-sex couples from adopting, the law in our state is murky. It's unlikely that we would be able to adopt without going out of state to do it. And then, its not clear how our state would handle the adoption.


Of course, this is just a sampling of the sorts of things the "Defense of Marriage" politicians could be talking about instead of always using the nebulous "we're defending traditional marriage." I hope they find my suggestions helpful, and consider them when they call their next press conference.


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Copyright 2004 by John Tyler Connoley

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