With section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) invalidated, civil unions, once a cup half full, are now a cup half empty.
On Wednesday the U. S. Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the section of DOMA that defined marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman for federal legal purposes. This means that married same-sex couples may now access the more than 1,100 federal benefits and protections that DOMA previously denied them.
The federal benefits of marriage are substantial, including “access to Social Security survivors’ benefits; the option to use family medical leave to care for a spouse; the opportunity to sponsor a foreign-born spouse for citizenship; and access to veterans’ spousal benefits,” according to Lambda Legal’s fact sheet about the DOMA decision.
But the federal benefits of marriage are not available to couples in a civil union or domestic partnership. A couple must be legally married to access them.
This means that the facade of legal equality that opponents of marriage equality claim civil unions embody has fallen. Civil unions and domestic partnerships never even lived up to their ideal of providing legal equality for same-sex couples at the state level. Now, with federal benefits available to married same-sex couples, civil unions are even more unfair and limiting than before.
New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois and the four other states shunting same-sex couples into civil unions and domestic partnerships need to quickly replace those grossly discriminatory institutions with marriage equality laws.
Cross-posted at Blue Jersey.