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Will gay couples in Utah now get federal benefits? Maybe, maybe not

Published June 26, 2013 7:03 pm

Impact • Obama orders "swift" review, but questions remain.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • President Barack Obama on Wednesday directed Attorney General Eric Holder to review federal statutes to implement the Supreme Court's decision to dump the Defense of Marriage Act, and a California senator said she would immediately introduce legislation to officially take the now-defunct law off the books.

There are more than 1,000 laws and reams of federal regulations impacted by the high court's ruling, and Obama said he wants to ensure the decision is "implemented swiftly and smoothly."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Wednesday she would introduce — with 39 co-sponsors — a bill to strike the law nullified by the court.

The implications are sweeping.

In the dozen states that recognize same-sex marriage, couples will be able to file for all federal benefits. But the picture is fuzzier in other states.

For instance, lawfully wedded same-sex couples living in Utah, which doesn't recognize their marriage, will get some federal benefits, but may not have access to others, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights group.

Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and an Equality Utah board member, notes there are 1,100 tax benefits to marriage, but it's unclear how couples in the Beehive State — and other places that don't allow gay marriage — could be affected.

"Congress usually deferred to the states," he said, "until DOMA."

The Human Rights Campaign already has presented the administration with an exhaustive list of proposed changes.

"Federal recognition for lesbian and gay couples is a massive turning point for equality, but it is not enough until every family is guaranteed complete access to the protections they need regardless of state borders," said the group's president, Chad Griffin. "The administration must take every possible step to ensure this landmark ruling treats every lawfully married couple across the country with the equality our Constitution guarantees."

The group said the Obama administration can change most of the rules through existing processes to ensure that married same-sex couples, wherever they live, have access to federal benefits.

By Wednesday afternoon, such efforts were already in motion.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the military will immediately begin implementing the court's decision.

"The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible," Hagel said. "That is now the law, and it is the right thing to do."

tburr@sltrib.com

Ray Parker contributed to this story. —

Different states, different effects

The Human Rights Campaign explained Wednesday the different impacts — depending on where Americans live — of the decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

"Lawfully married couples living in marriage-equality states will soon have equal access to all the federal rights and benefits based on marital status," HRC said on its website. "For married couples living in states without marriage equality, there is less clarity.

"Even with DOMA out of the way, different federal programs have different rules that determine where an agency looks to decide if a marriage is valid – either place of celebration or place of residence.

"Most of these rules are policies, regulations or simply practices that the Obama administration can change through existing processes to ensure that married same-sex couples, wherever they may live, have access to the federal rights and benefits they deserve.

"Under the current rules and practices, a lawfully married same-sex couple living in a state that does not recognize their marriage will have access to some federal rights and benefits, but may not have access to many others, depending on how the court rules. Working with a coalition of groups, HRC has raised these issues with the administration and will be working tirelessly to see the necessary changes made so that the largest number of married same-sex couples have access to the largest number of rights and benefits under federal law."

Source: The Human Rights Campaign