Supreme Court strikes down DOMA
The Supreme Court’s June 26 decision on same-sex marriage opens the door for an expansion of military allowances, health care, housing and survivor benefits, but it could also lead to a new kind of inequality.
The ruling strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That definition has guided most but not all decisions about federal benefits, including military and veterans’ compensation.
By some counts, there are more than 100 benefits for married couples that could be provided to same-sex couples as a result of the decision, some of them with large financial benefits, such as coverage under the military health care program, paying for a spouse to accompany a service member on a permanent change of station move, and housing allowances — or on-base housing — on the same basis as other couples.
The decision on DOMA does not automatically mean same-sex couples will be treated the same by the military as other married couples because there are several sections of policy of law and government benefits that would have to be rewritten.
Striking down the federal law leaves the question of what constitutes a marriage up to the states, some of which allow and recognize same-sex marriages, but more that do not. The Defense Department could decide to allow same-sex benefits in states such marriages are legal but deny benefits in other states, creating inequality of benefits based on location in place of the current inequality based on the traditional definition of marriages.