Supreme Court Review of Marriage Cases Has Enormous Impact for Same-sex Couples

December 7, 2012

Laura Rodriguez,, (310) 956-2425
David Codell,, (310) 273-0306
Nan Hunter,, (646) 872-1521

Williams Institute Research Shows Far Reaching Economic, Regulatory Effects on Same-Sex Families

LOS ANGELES—The U.S. Supreme Court’s review of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 later this term could have far ranging economic and regulatory implications for same-sex families, according to data from the Williams Institute. 

“Given that multiple circuit courts have found DOMA’s Section 3 unconstitutional, the Court has an important opportunity to provide nationwide answers regarding the validity or invalidity of this federal statutory provision,” said Nan Hunter, Legal Scholarship Director, Williams Institute, and Associate Dean and Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

DOMA & Federal Recognition of Married Same-Sex Couples:

United States vs. Windsor raises questions about federal recognition of same-sex couples legally married under state law. Of approximately 645,000 same-sex couples nationally, at least 20% live in a jurisdiction where they can marry. From 50,000 to 80,000 of same-sex couples in the United States are legally married, and more than 85,000 are in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships. If federal recognition of same-sex couples comes as a result of the court’s review, changes to federal policies will have a profound impact on these couples. 

Changes to federal leave, tax and entitlement policies:

• Surviving spouses of same-sex couples would gain access to partners’ Social Security benefits, which could add over $5,700 to the monthly income of the surviving spouse.  See study.

• In situations similar to that of the plaintiff in the Windsor DOMA case that the Supreme Court has decided to hear, same-sex couples who are affected by the estate tax would no longer be subject to a greater tax burden upon the death of their spouse than similarly-situated different-sex married couples. See study. 

• Same-sex couples working in the private sector would no longer have to pay 11% more than different-sex couples in taxes for employer-sponsored healthcare. See study.

• Same-sex spouses of federal employees would be eligible for employee benefits that are currently provided to employees with different-sex spouses. See study.

Proposition 8 and State Recognition of Same-Sex Couples

Research suggests the court’s decision to review Hollingsworth v. Perry, the federal challenge to California’s Proposition 8, could impact thousands of same-sex couples.

“There has been extensive research on the lives and experiences of LGBT people and their families. This research has been critical in legal analysis of disparate treatment of same-sex couples under the law, including legal analysis by the federal trial court that ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional in the case that the Supreme Court is now reviewing,” said David Codell, the Williams Institute’s Visiting Arnold D. Kassoy Senior Scholar of Law and Legal Director.

Research shows:

• There are nearly 100,000 same-sex couples living in California. See study.

• Over 24,000 same-sex California couples would be likely to marry within the next three years if permitted to do so. [Williams Institute Same-sex Couple Survey, 2010]

• If California recognized same-sex marriage, 35% of same-sex couples in the U.S. would live in states where they can marry; and 28% of the U.S. population would live in states where same-sex couples can marry.

• Extending marriage to same-sex couples has a positive economic impact. Wedding spending in Maine, Maryland and Washington could generate over $166 million in the first three years. In California alone, weddings could generate almost $290 million in new spending over three years.

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