Gay rights took a big step forward today. But there is a lot more to do. Here is a key reason why.
The DOMA ruling makes it possible for Obama to grant rights and benefits to gay couples – at the federal level. But there are many rights and benefits which are generally left to the states: the DOMA ruling doesn’t really address them. The other big Supreme Court ruling, on the California law, is pretty much specific to California – it is unlikely to be applicable to the other three dozen states where gays and lesbians are still fighting for their rights.
The rights which married couples have, broadly speaking, fall into three categories.
First, there are the issues which are mostly settled at the federal level: this is the stuff that Obama can start working to fix, now that DOMA has been overturned. It includes compensation for service-related deaths, income tax filing status and deductions, Social Security, veteran’s pensions and disability, disabled vets tax exemptions, relocation benefits for military families, and spousal assets as a factor in determining need for government aid -- VA benefits, housing, educational loans, farm price supports.
Second, there are the rights and benefits which are mostly managed at the state level – this is the stuff that is essentially unchanged even after the DOMA ruling. It includes tax-free property transfers, organ donor issues, next-of-kin status, access to school records, alimony, foster care, medical decisions, and funeral decisions, condominium laws, child support.
Then there is the stuff in the middle, the questions that can be either a federal issue or a state issue, depending on what you’re trying to do, and where. This include a big one, insurance coverage, as well as survivor benefits, continuation of health care for surviving spouses, parental rights, child custody, adoption, homestead laws, water rights, name changes, domestic violence laws, spousal privilege for criminal witnesses, prison and hospital visitation, conflict-of-interest rules, bankruptcy, shared property, prenuptial agreements, wills and inheritance.
So as you can see, the battle for equality is far from over.