Federal Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage An Economic Win-Win

Federal Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage An Economic Win-Win

Before the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, discriminatory policies cost same-sex married couples as much as $500,000 over a lifetime. -   June 26, 2013
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Lee Badgett is a Professor of Economics, University Mass. Amherst, and author of the book: When Gay People Get Married (2009 NYU Press). She is also the Director, Center for Public Policy and Administration, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Research Director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, University of California, Los Angeles


Federal Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage An Economic Win-WinJAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

In what's being hailed as a historic day for marriage equality, the Supreme Court issued two major decisions Tuesday, overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the 1996 law that blocks federal marriage recognition and benefits for same-sex couples in states that allow gay marriage, and in a separate decision, it effectively restored same-sex marriage in California, making it the 13th such state.

Now joining us is Lee Badgett. She's a professor of economics and the director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also serves as the research director of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA's school of law. Her most recent book is When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage.

Thank you for joining us.


NOOR: Can we start off by just getting your reaction to these two historic rulings [inaud.] Supreme Court?

BADGETT: They're very important. They will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. There are about 100,000 same-sex couples who've gotten married in the U.S. but still haven't been able to tap into the full rights and benefits of marriage, and the DOMA ruling opens that up today. And then there are 100,000 couples who live in California who had a very brief window of opportunity to get married, and a bunch of them did, but there are still many more who want to get married. So it's going to change things dramatically for same-sex couples in the U.S.

NOOR: So you've studied the economic implications of same-sex marriage. Talk about what benefits DOMA blocked same-sex couples from getting.

BADGETT: They're quite extensive, actually, everything from being treated equally in the tax system, which had a number of impacts. In fact, the case that the Supreme Court heard today involved a woman who had been married to her partner of many decades. And they got married in Canada. And when her wife died, she had to pay $363,000 in estate taxes that she wouldn't have had to pay had she been married to a man. So that's probably the far end of the spectrum in terms of the actual quantitative side of things.

But for same-sex couples in general, many of them would pay less in taxes if they were recognized by the federal government and could file jointly. Same-sex couples who are married will have to pay taxes on the value of insurance that they get from one of the partner's employers. That adds up to an average of about $1,000 a year for same-sex couples. They don't have the ability to get Social Security survivor benefits or spousal benefits when they retire or when one dies. If they are federal employees, they don't have the ability to put their same-sex spouse on health insurance or to cover them through retirement benefits. The list is very, very long.

A couple of New York Times reporters actually tried to add up what all of these costs were. And they took into account some of those things that I mentioned, as well as having to hire accountants and lawyers to try to navigate between federal and state law. And they said that in the worst case scenario, it could cost a same-sex couple and their family over half a million dollars over the course of a lifetime. And that's a big difference. That's a half a million dollar difference [same-sex] couples would not have to pay. So this has a really big effect on the ability to access these important benefits that help support families.

NOOR: And do states that allow same-sex marriage, can they expect other economic benefits?

BADGETT: Yeah. I think the states that allow same-sex couples to marry will find that their citizens will be in better shape economically, which is good for their children, it's good for those couples, and so it's good for the state as a whole. I think it's also likely that now that marriage will come with those benefits that we'll see more same-sex couples actually getting married, and I think that's a good thing for the stability of those families. So I think that's the impact on the couples and the state.

We do know from research that same-sex couples spend a lot of money on their weddings when they get married. So those new weddings in California and some of the other states will mean tens of thousands, millions of dollars in new spending that'll help create jobs, that'll generate some more tax revenue. So those are all things that are good for the state. And we know that state budgets are actually improved by recognizing same-sex couples and giving them the right to marry. So from an economic perspective it's really a win-win situation all around.

NOOR: Now, for the 37 states that still do not allow same-sex marriage--and it's important to remember that the Supreme Court's decision does not affect those 37 states. It's still up to those states to decide whether they want to allow same-sex marriage or not. Do you think the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act will maybe cause at least some people to maybe consider at a time of economic depression to maybe reconsider this, the ban on same-sex marriage?

BADGETT: I think it will certainly put more pressure on them to do that. Now that same-sex couples will have the right to full marriage when the states allow them to, will mean that there are additional incentives to try to push states to open up marriage of same-sex couples.

It's still actually an open question, though, about what will happen to couples who get married in a place like Massachusetts and then go back to Texas or Florida. Will the federal government recognize those marriages or not? We don't really know the answer to that question yet. I think it's something the Obama administration will have to sort out, and they will have to decide how to interpret that Supreme Court decision and decide which couples will be able to tap into the federal benefits.

So I think overall if that happens we'll see many, many more couples getting married across the country. And I think--as I said, I mean, I think even states that don't want same-sex couples to get married, if they have same-sex couples who are able to marry and those families were strengthened, I think that would be good for every state that has same-sex couples. And, actually, they all have them.

NOOR: Well, thank you for joining us.

BADGETT: Thanks for having me.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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