Marriage Equality Update
North Carolina still fails to recognize same-sex marriages, but recent key changes in related federal laws can newly afford federal legal benefits even to same-sex couples in NC, if they are legally wed in jurisdictions that do recognize same-sex marriage. Accordingly, we have some long-time committed couples in our own congregation who have subsequently chosen to legally marry out of state since “DOMA” fell in June, including Linda Coutant and Chris May, pictured below. More information about the DOMA ruling will also follow below.
Chris, a retired Naval officer now completing a PhD in human services, explained that part of the reason they legally married is so she could secure for Linda the federal benefits available to military spouses now available due to the changes in DOMA. On their way home from their Delaware wedding, they stopped at the Anacostia Naval Station to obtain Linda’s ID card as a military spouse, which would have been denied during Chris’s 25 years of dedicated service.
Linda, a writer and editor at ASU also pursuing a EdD in educational leadership, remarked upon how the long term lack of marriage opportunities for gay couples fueled more creative means for formalizing a commitment to a partner. However, finally given the opportunity to “make it legal”, she found herself amazed at how powerful it was to use scripted marriage vows in a legal wedding. But still, here in NC Linda is not allowed to share the family benefits from her state employer with her spouse, despite being legally married in regard to the federal government.
Both Chris and Linda advocate normalizing marriage equality in NC and other states, as it is so critical emotionally and financially to be granted the respect that many people still reserve only for opposite-sex marriage. They remarked on the sting of being asked questions such as if their marriage “means anything” here, and the reactions they’ve received generally have been much more lukewarm than any straight married couple would receive. We’re making headway, but we are not there yet. As Chris says, there is much work to be done to enable and normalize equal treatment for all couples in NC.
On June 26, 2013 the US Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), with the result that same-sex couples who legally marry deserve equal rights to all benefits under federal (not state) law that extend to all other married couples. While the ruling did not require states to recognize gay marriage for state protection if a state opposes it, this is a huge step forward that federal benefits for married couples extend even in states opposing marriage equality. The landmark ruling impacts more than 1,000 federal laws. Guidance and interpretations are gradually unfolding.
On August 29, 2013:
- the US IRS announced that all legal benefits and protections under federal tax law will be extended to all same-sex couples who legally marry in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages. The IRS ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
- the US Health & Human Services announced that all same-sex legally married beneficiaries in private Medicare plans have access to equal coverage when it comes to care in a nursing home where their spouse lives. This guarantee of coverage applies equally to couples who are in a legally recognized same-sex marriage, regardless of where they live. Also see July 31 HHS press release.
On September 9, 2013 the North Carolina National Guard announced that it will begin recognizing same-sex marriages of couples who married in states allowing gay marriage, announcing they will begin processing requests for federal benefits immediately.
On September 16, 2013 the NC Guilford Country Registrar of Deeds, Jeff Thigpen, issued a statement voicing his support for marriage equality in North Carolina after being forced by law to turn down marriage licenses for two same-sex couples. “I really do appreciate and applaud these couples because they’re just trying to take care of their families. And it’s very clear to me that they love each other and they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other.” Thigpen commended them for their courage and commitment. He said “They don’t want to change the institution of marriage; they simply want to join it by making lifelong promises of commitment and devotion to one another.” He told the couple “I believe LGBT couples and families will soon achieve full marriage equality in North Carolina and I look forward to the day when I will be able to issue you a license.” He also mentioned his 10 year old daughter and his desire that by the time she is ready to marry, whether she be straight or gay, that across the nation we will be upholding the central value that we are all created equal. The couples choosing to request a marriage license they knew would be denied them was part of the “WE DO Campaign” growing across North Carolina, with events planned into November.
Here is a photo of a prayer for reconciliation for all having strong views on marriage equality, which both Thigpen and the committed couples participated in, prior to going through the license request / denial.
US States status: currently same-sex couples may legally marry in 13 states plus Washington DC.
International status: currently same-sex couples may legally marry in 16 countries.