News Release

DOMA Struck Down, But What About Those Who Don’t Marry?

The Los Angeles Times reports: “The Supreme Court struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday and declared that same-sex couples who are legally married deserve equal rights to the benefits under federal law that go to all other married couples.”

NANCY POLIKOFF, npoliko at wcl.american.edu
Polikoff is professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, where she teaches in the areas of family law, civil procedure, and sexuality and the law.

She said today: “I am so dismayed by the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act yesterday. Race is still a central component of who our society values or doesn’t value. The DOMA opinion means married same-sex couples will be treated as married under federal law, but the demographics of who marries now is highly skewed by race and class. There is every reason to assume those demographics will hold for lesbians and gay men as well. So we will have same-sex couples who don’t marry, just as we have different-sex couples who don’t marry. And we will have lots of legal consequences linked exclusively to marriage that ignore the vast number of family relationships in this country that are not based on marriage.

“I am very happy to see Justice Kennedy’s opinion recognize the dignity that same-sex relationships must be afforded and also recognize how demeaning of gay people it was for Congress to pass DOMA. But Kennedy refers to DOMA as humiliating the children of same-sex couples. NO children should feel humiliated by their family structure. Children of unmarried parents should not feel humiliated. All children are equal and the families that raise them deserve equal respect.”

CINDY BUTLER, cbutler at unmarried.org
Butler is executive director of Unmarried Equality, which advocates for equality for unmarried people. She said: “We are delighted that the Supreme Court has ruled DOMA unconstitutional. We support the right of anyone who wants to marry; however, while media has focused on the law’s impact on same-sex couples, the decision reaches far beyond the LGBTQ community. It moves us one step closer to eliminating the assignment of benefits and privileges based on marital status. As divorce and cohabitation rates increase, legal marriage should not be regarded as the only legitimate outcome for committed relationships.

“Unmarried Equality demands equal treatment and fairness for the 112 million unmarried people living in the U.S. Our position is that no benefits or privileges should be assigned on the basis of marital status by federal or state governments, employers, service providers, or any other entity. No one form of lifestyle should be held in higher regard than any other. Certainly the economic and legal benefits afforded to legally married couples through the Defense of Marriage Act were blatant discrimination as they were withheld from those who cannot or choose not to marry.

“Among the ways in which unmarried people face discrimination are: social security benefits earned over a career revert to the government and may not be left to a beneficiary; certain tax deductions do not apply; workplace benefits are usually less than those offered married couples and families; all insurance rates are higher (healthcare, car, etc.); hospital visitation may be denied, despite the 2011 passage of regulations prohibiting this; housing may be denied on the basis of marital status; and more. Relationships are not considered as ‘committed’ as legal marriages. The cultural stereotype that those who are unmarried do not have the same responsibilities as those who are married results in less accommodation by employers. This preferential treatment needs to end now.”