“Love Wins.” These words dominated social media for several weeks after the morning of Friday, June 26, 2015 when the Supreme Court issued its decision legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states.
The hashtag “#lovewins” garnered over 6 million Tweets. Facebook designed a rainbow colored overlay that users could apply to their profile photos. The White House and the Empire State Building were flooded in rainbow colored lights. This was a monumental decision. On one hand, it was a long time in coming. On the other, it seemed that the world changed overnight.
But what did the decision actually say? And what does it mean in our every day lives? The most obvious is that it changes the law in those states that did not permit same sex marriage previously. Gay and lesbian partners can now get married in all 50 states in the US, and local jurisdictions must issue marriage licenses to sex same couples throughout the country.
The decision also requires states to recognize marriage licenses issued to same sex couples in other states. Before, crossing state lines in a simple trip to the grocery store bore the risk of conferring vastly different marital status. Now, for the first time, if a same sex couple gets married in New York and moves to Texas, Texas must recognize their marriage, which was not true in the past.
Before the Supreme Court decision, married same sex couples faced a patchwork of laws – which created a chaotic and irrational set of privileges and restrictions, depending on geography.
The ruling allows all US same sex couples many of the benefits of marriage that they would not have previously enjoyed. There are over 1,000 federal laws that provide for spousal benefits. These benefits do not apply to couples in civil unions. Here are a few important benefits of marriage:
Spouses can get Social Security spousal retirement, survivor, death, and disability protections. Even though this has been recognized by the federal government since 2013, receiving these benefits was dependent on the state where you live. Now that all states must recognize same sex marriage this is no longer an issue.
Widows and widowers are eligible to receive veteran spousal benefits. This may include benefits for education, medicxal care, or loans.
- The right to file jointly on one’s federal and state income tax return.
- The right to include one’s spouse on an employee-sponsored health insurance plan.
- The right to Family Medical Leave from work to care for one’s spouse.
- Expanded visiting rights for one’s spouse that is in the hospital.
- The right to make medical decisions for one’s spouse.
- The right to inherit a share of one’s spouses estate.
- The right to inherit from one’s spouse without paying estate and gift taxes.
- The right to adopt children together.
- The right to workers’ compensation benefits.
- The right to get divorced and to obtain spousal support.
The Court rooted its decision in both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. They recognized that marriage is a fundamental right, that marriage is a keystone of modern society. They acknowledged that to the prior patchwork of laws fostered harm which created instability and stigma, not only for the couple themselves, but for the hundreds of thousands of children of gay and lesbian parents.
Predictably, there was pushback on this decision – both in the dissents, and now, we are seeing in the news, in the day to day practices. I’m sure this will continue. However, the decision is made, and it is the law of the land.