DOMA – defense of marriage act
The Defense of Marriage Act only has a reach into areas that pertain strictly to the defining of marriage between man and woman and not quasi-marital relationships (“Qualified Domestic Relationships”, 2010). The reality is that this would only affect the benefits of individuals who seek to rearrange marital relationships to include domestic relationships such as civil unions. As it stands today, civil unions are subject to the protections under the same laws in states that have amended their constitutions to include them. Cases are being brought every day that argue that domestic relationships, including civil unions should be guaranteed constitutional protection and treatment. This would give those in these relationships rights to partner benefits, partner beneficiary status, and other financial rights that were once only afforded to those in marital relationships where the parties consisted of a man and a woman. Things are changing.
Only the truly stated spouse is able to reap pension benefits or other monetary rewards that result from death, separation or other marriage altering event (“Qualified Domestic Relationships” , 2010). This could devastate families who have decided to live in a state of civil union and then may later divorce. How will they split assets that were gained during the stint of their relationship? According to the Defense of Marriage Act, which clearly defines marriage as “a legal union between a man and a woman”, there would be no way that those in domestic relationships would be able to claim rights to their partners property after any marriage altering event. They would simply leave with whatever they came into the relationship with or whatever the partner agreed to give up. In other cases like bankruptcy this can have adverse affects too.
If a couple was living under civil unions or any other domestic relationship, DOMA would not allow them to seek bankruptcy protection together. Creditors would be able to come after the other partner with full force (Hauser, 2011). The affects of the Defense of Marriage Act in this case works against the partners who would still be left liable if their partner filed for bankruptcy protection. Again, this was not the intention of the law, but its affect would be the same because the domestic relationship or the civil union would not be considered a marriage and therefore left unprotected. Another area that could be seriously affected by DOMA is healthcare.
Under current laws one spouse is able to receive medical and dental benefits under their spouses plan if they are married. There are a few states that recognize domestic relationships and even fewer who recognize same-sex marriage, as legal marriages. The current Marriage Act as it stands would keep these relationships from ever receiving benefits under their partner’s plan, since those relationships would not fall under the umbrella of “legal marriages”. There are various times and states where the law protecting civil unions and same sex marriage will conflict, causing more damage to an already controversial situation (Solomon et el, 2012). There will have to be further definitions given under both situations, whether the defense of marriage act extends further or if it is completely disseminated. Estate Planning for relationships that are not clearly defined as marriage relationships will be much more difficult.
Financial Planners need to make sure that hey are mindful of the laws and how their suggestion s would affect their clients (Stolz, 2012). Under many circumstances it would difficult to define a partner as the spousal beneficiary and have them protected as though the marriage was defined by the law. The person filing for a financial benefit after death would have a much more difficult time proving the relationship under the law (“Qualified Domestic Relationships”, 2010). They would not be given the same consideration as in a marriage between a man and a woman would. The affects would be devastating causing many already standing domestic relationships and civil unions to be considered null and void.
The reach of this law is debatable because there are places where same –sex marriage is accepted and protected under the law. When putting a stamp of approval on the definition of marriage, it would have the affect of defining other relationships as non-legal and therefore unworthy of equal protection under the current laws. Whether this is right or wrong is not exactly the issue, but what is feasible is that it would ruin many domestic partnerships and civil unions financially.
Citations or footnotes:
Qualified Domestic Relationships Order—Marital Property Rights–Alternate Payee—Defense of Marriage Act–“Quasi-Marital” Relationships. (2010). Benefits Quarterly, 26(1), 51-52.
Hauser, S. E. (2011). More Than Abstract Justice: The Defense Marriage Act and the Equal Treatment of Same-Sex Married Couples Under Section 302(a) of the Bankruptcy Code. American Bankruptcy Law Journal, 85(3), 195-237.
Stolz, R. F. (2012). Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples: What Financial Planners Need to Know. Journal Of Financial Planning, 25(2), 20-24.
Solomon, T. A., Adams, J. S., & Johnson, B. R. (2012). How Conflicting Same-Sex Union Laws Are Impacting Employee Benefits. Benefits Magazine, 49(1), 14-21.