The Supreme Court will today hear oral arguments in the case against the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that denies equal federal benefits to couples who are legally married under state law and also burdens families and the federal government.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that DOMA increases the deficit by roughly $1 billion a year, and while that amount is small, striking it down would save far more than ending subsidies to NPR or some of the other “deficit reduction” ideas Republicans have pursued in the past.
Those savings would come from numerous sources. Tax revenues would rise by more than $400 million a year, and though costs on programs like Social Security and federal benefits would increase, costs for safety net programs like Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, and other programs would go down.
That’s significant, because the largest benefit from recognizing same-sex marriages comes from what it would do for individual couples and families. Same-sex couples aren’t allowed to file joint taxes, which prohibits them from claiming some tax credits and deductions that would benefit their families. They also aren’t eligible for spousal health, Social Security, or federal pension benefits, making it harder for some LGBT families to make ends meet. Older LGBT couples are more likely to live in poverty than married heterosexual seniors, which is why ending DOMA would reduce costs for programs like Medicaid and SSI — access to spousal benefits would lift many LGBT Americans out of poverty and off of the social safety net.
Striking down DOMA is important primarily to provide LGBT Americans equal protection under the law. But it’s also important because it will benefit the American economy by helping businesses, reducing the deficit, and lifting people out of poverty.