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How DOMA Ruling Will Affect Same-Sex Spouses

Many details about benefits and rights will remain unsettled for a while — 35 states do not recognize same-sex marriage — but here are answers to some common FAQs

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Californians celebrate the Supreme Court ruling that overturned DOMA. What rights and benefits will same-sex couples have after DOMA? (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

June 2013: Californians celebrate the Supreme Court ruling that overturned DOMA. — Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

En español | Historically, same-sex married couples have been denied many benefits and rights enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples. But since the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), some of these issues will vanish. 

See also: AARP 40th anniversary tribute to the Stonewall Riots that sparked a revolution

The ruling — that the states, not the federal government, properly regulate marriage — will affect more than 1,000 federal statutes and regulations. An IRS decision in late August may be the most significant clue so far that many federal agencies may seek to level the playing field for all legally married same-sex couples.

Here are answers to some common questions about the ruling's effects on same-sex couples.

Does the Supreme Court's ruling mean that the federal government has to recognize same-sex marriage?

Yes, at least for couples who were married and currently reside in states that allow same-sex marriage — called recognition states. Some federal agencies will also recognize legally married same-sex couples who are currently living in non-recognition states.  

Do all gay and lesbian couples now have a constitutional right to get married?

No. Each state may still make its own decision about whether to allow same-sex couples to marry. While 13 states and the District of Columbia expressly allow same-sex marriage, 35 states have laws or constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage. 

If a couple married in a state or country that allows same-sex marriage, do other states have to recognize their marriage?

No. The Supreme Court's ruling in the DOMA case only applies to federal recognition of legal same-sex marriage. The court only struck down Section 3 of DOMA, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The court did not consider Section 2 of DOMA, which leaves it up to each state to determine whether it will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.  

Will all federal agencies be required to recognize same-sex marriage?

That's a bit more complicated. Some parts of the federal government, such as the military and the IRS, will honor your marriage if you were married in any recognition state, no matter where you now live. Other agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, by law grant benefits based on where you reside, or your "state of domicile," at the time you file for them. So if you live in a non-recognition state, you may not be entitled to certain benefits even if you married in a state that honored it. 

Next page: How the DOMA ruling will affect taxes, caregiving, health insurance and more. »

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