The majority of legally married gay couples with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent days said they have had little difficulty receiving benefits for their spouses after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.
Michelle Schohn of Arlington, Va., a State Department employee who married her partner of 14 years, Mary Glantz, in Provincetown, Mass., in 2009, told the Blade on Tuesday from Estonia that the agency’s HR personnel recognized the couple as married “within hours” after she faxed them a copy of their marriage license. The couple was also able to update their federal life insurance policy.
Schohn said the USAA also pre-approved her and Glantz for a mortgage to potentially buy a home in Maryland as a married couple.
“It’s been amazingly straight-forward and very easy,” Schohn, who was the president of the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies from 2008-2009, said. “The several people that I’ve worked with so far have been very friendly and accommodating. I haven’t had any kind of pushback from anyone.”
The Office of Personnel Management on June 28 issued a memorandum that outlined the benefits for which legally married gay and lesbian federal employees and their children or stepchildren are now eligible. These include health, dental, vision, life and long-term insurance, retirement benefits and the ability to submit claims for medical expenses through flexible spending accounts.
Alex Hardin, who works in the State Department’s Bureau of European Affairs, told the Blade during GLIFAA’s monthly happy hour at the Capitol Skyline Hotel in Southwest D.C. on Tuesday that he and his partner, who is from Japan, are planning to get married in the nation’s capital later this summer.
The DOMA decision opened the door for legally married gays and lesbians to sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration purposes.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on July 1 said her agency will treat marriage-based green card applications from same-sex bi-national couples the same as those submitted by heterosexuals.
Hardin’s partner already has a green card, but he told the Blade the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling eliminates any uncertainty over the status of their relationship once they tie the knot.
“Now we can feel more comfortable knowing that we’re going to be married, we’re going to have the rights and privileges of everybody else,” Hardin said.
Eleven states and D.C. currently allow same-sex marriage. Gays and lesbians will be able to legally tie the knot in Minnesota and Rhode Island on Aug. 1.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a lawsuit that challenges Pennsylvania’s statuary ban on nuptials for gays and lesbians. The group also plans to contest constitutional amendments in Virginia and North Carolina that define marriage as between a man and a woman.
The ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights in March petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court to rule on whether same-sex couples can legally marry in the state. Same-sex marriage lawsuits have also been filed in Michigan and Nevada, while motions have been filed in Illinois and New Jersey that seek expedited rulings in cases that seek nuptials for gays and lesbians in the two states.
The Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry and other groups have also launched campaigns to challenge same-sex marriage bans in Arkansas, Florida, Oregon and other states.
Missy Novak of South Deerfield, Mass., contacted the company for which she and her wife both work after the Supreme Court issued its DOMA decision to see whether they and their daughter are now eligible for a family health insurance plan.
The company issued a memo that said “guidance is anticipated” from the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor on “how the ruling affects the laws they enforce.”
Novak said the company told her on Tuesday that it is still waiting to hear from the two agencies.
“We’re kind of eager to hear back from our employer on when are you guys going to be changing this,” she told the Blade.
OPM has said in a series of memos it released after the DOMA ruling that federal gay employees who have entered into civil unions will remain ineligible for most of the benefits that legally married same-sex couples are now able to receive.
GLIFAA President Ken Kero-Mentz said retirement plans are among the issues that still need to be sorted out.
He described the impact of the DOMA decision — specifically the impact it has had on immigration and insurance benefits for gays and lesbians who were unable to obtain federal health insurance benefits while living overseas with their same-sex spouses — as “enormous.”
“DOMA had a particularly hateful effect, especially for us in the foreign service community,” Kero-Mentz said. “We’re able to celebrate that much more within our smaller community because these two massive barriers have now been lifted.”