Two Big Federal Wins for Marriage Equality

Thursday brought news of two significant rules that will have an immediate impact on LGBTQ families.

First, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling on Medicare:

Gay married couples are now eligible for nursing home care through Medicare-funded private insurance in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, according to guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid obtained Thursday by the Washington Blade.

In the guidance dated Aug. 29, Danielle Moon, director of the Medicare Drug & Health Plan Contract Administration Group, explains the new post-DOMA policy to Medicare Advantage organizations, or private companies that contract with Medicare to provide coverage.

Moon says the ruling against Section 3 of DOMA requires these companies to cover services offered in a skilled nursing facility, or a nursing home, for a gay married couple to the same extent they would provide them to an opposite-sex couple.

“MA organizations therefore are required, effective immediately, to cover services in a SNF in which a validly married same sex spouse resides to the extent that they would be required to cover the services if an opposite sex spouse resided in the SNF,” Moon says.

This is a significant ruling for aging LGBTQ couples who will now have the protection of the law to remain together. Recent findings suggest that there are more than 1.5 million LGBTQ identified individuals over the age of 65 and that number will triple soon (SAGE.) These estimates are expected to be low because of underreporting. But the fact is that with advances in healthcare and access to services, more LGBTQ couples will age together.  To read more on the ruling, visit the Washington Blade piece.

Image: Queercents
Image: Queercents

The other big news comes from the IRS which has ruled that all legally married couples will be recognized for federal tax purposes regardless of where they live.  So a couple married in New York, but residing in PA can file federally together. This does not impact state filings – I’ve already seen some memo’s which are going to create havoc for the poor CPA’s handling same sex tax filings.

What’s especially significant about this is that it makes clear that if a legally married couple moves from New York to say Pennsylvania, the federal government still recognizes their marriage. That’s an important precedent when it comes to challenging the remaining portion of DOMA that does not require states to recognize marriages.

It also introduces potential new litigation as the ruling does not cover civil unions or domestic partnerships.

As always, if you are a Pennsylvania resident, my advice is to consult a good LGBTQ family law attorney – now the fact that we can’t obtain a divorce will clearly be in force nationwide. So you will have to move, meet the residentcy requirement and file in your new state.

Other good news:

  • A federal court struck down a law that prohibited the Veterans Affairs office from providing veterans benefits. 
  • California’s ban on reparative therapy for children was upheld.
  • And more good news on marriage equality in New Mexico.

As an aside, no word yet from the City of Pittsburgh on what happened to the Domestic Partner Registry or how that will impact the September 20 deadline. But the cavalry has arrived so hopefully we’ll see some action.



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