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What the DOMA Ruling Means for You

The Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling striking down DOMA just weeks ago, and since that historic day, we have been faced with many questions about how the decision will impact same-sex couples nationwide and in the Commonwealth.

Today, we hope to answer some of the questions supporters like you have been posing to us. While we do not yet know all the answers about how the DOMA decision will impact every area of law, we are beginning to have a clear sense of what the ruling means for Pennsylvanians.

What did the Supreme Court decision do?
The Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, the part of the law that dealt with federal recognition of legally married same-sex couples. Now that Section 3 has been declared unconstitutional, the federal government can provide equal protection under the law to legally married same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court did not strike down the other two sections of DOMA. Thus, states can still decide on their own whether or not to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. States that do not currently have marriage equality, such as Pennsylvania, can still refuse to recognize marriages performed in a marriage equality state.

Can I get married in Pennsylvania at this time?
Unfortunately not. The Court’s ruling applies only to the federal government. It does not change discriminatory state laws excluding same-sex couples from marriage.

In 1996, Pennsylvania passed a state law that bans marriage for same-sex couples. Even with the end of DOMA, same-sex couples in Pennsylvania are unable to apply for a marriage license in the Commonwealth.

Currently, only 13 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry.

How does the ruling impact legally married same-sex couples (i.e., couples that were married in a marriage equality state) who are currently living in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania has a state law that prohibits the Commonwealth from recognizing same-sex marriages that have taken place in other states; thus, legally married same-sex couples living in Pennsylvania will continue to be denied critical legal protections granted by the state.

But legally married same-sex couples living in Pennsylvania do have access to some federal rights and benefits — though not all.

Federal agencies have different approaches regarding which state’s laws they look to in order to determine if a marriage is valid for federal purposes. Some agencies, including the IRS and Social Security, consider where a couple lives (place of domicile/residence). Others consider where a couple got married (place of celebration). Other federal agencies and programs look to the state “with the most significant interest” in the marriage, and many have no explicit rule at all.

The President has pledged to examine all federal laws to determine how to most fully and effectively implement the Court’s ruling on DOMA. That examination has already begun, and several agencies have already affirmed new rules and policies with regard to same-sex couples.

The Department of Homeland Security has announced that a same-sex spouse can now sponsor an immigrant partner for a green card, and the Department of Defense has already announced it will implement benefits for military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation.

For many programs, the administration can take steps to adopt the standard fairest to all married couples: the “place of celebration” standard. Some agencies can use this time-honored legal standard just by changing their practices. Others may have to change regulations, requiring a more lengthy process of proposing new rules and soliciting public comments, or laws.

We believe that the “place of celebration” standard best provides certainty, clarity, and stability for couples, their loved ones, employers, government agencies, and others, especially in a society where people regularly move for jobs, family, and many other purposes. Such a standard would simply acknowledge that a couple is married for federal purposes regardless of where the couple lives; it wouldn’t tell a state how it must treat married same-sex couples.

In the coming weeks and months, the President and his Administration will continue to fully implement the law across agencies, departments, and programs. We’ll keep you up-to-date with the latest developments.

How is Equality Pennsylvania working to legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania?
Equality Pennsylvania is committed to winning the freedom to marry for all loving, committed couples in the commonwealth. We believe that Pennsylvanians are ready for a conversation about why marriage matters to all families, and we’re dedicated to having those conversations and winning support for the freedom to marry from our family, friends, and neighbors.

Additionally, we’re proud to support our partners at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, who have just announced their challenge to the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

In addition to marriage equality, Equality Pennsylvania is committed to advancing fairness and freedom on all fronts — from the courtroom to City Hall to the Capitol. While securing marriage for all loving couples is a top priority, our first goal is still passing a statewide law to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

While the Court’s ruling on DOMA is a huge achievement for the LGBT community nationwide, it is still clear that our work is not done. Right here in Pennsylvania, it is critical that we continue the fight for fairness, freedom, and equality for all.

If you have further questions about the impact of DOMA’s demise, these fact sheets can provide additional information:

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