New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) placed the question of repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act within the context of New York’s landmark marriage-equality law, noting that when New York begins issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbians this Sunday, they still won’t have access to the over 1,000 federal benefits and protections to which opposite-sex couples are entitled. “In the eyes of the federal government, these couples will remain strangers,” Schumer noted at this morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “with none of the responsibilities or privileges or matrimony. The same is true of course of couples in five other states and the District of Columbia.”
As an example, Schumer pointed to the burden same-sex couples face in securing health benefits for their partners:
SCHUMER: I want to draw your attention to one particular way in which DOMA adversely impacts gay couples, the federal tax exemption for health benefits…Because of DOMA, gay couples must include the costs of insurance — and we all know that health care isn’t cheap — in their taxable income. That means that even though they’re married in the eyes of their state, their company is being fair and generous, the federal government hits them with a heaping tax burden every April 15. Or the employer is required to pay FICA taxes on the benefit. That’s right, because of DOMA, major employers are forced to pay…extra taxes.
The taxation of employer-provided domestic partner health benefits costs couples $1,069 per year more in taxes than a married employee with the same coverage. Employers also pay a total of $57 million per year in additional payroll taxes because of the unequal tax treatment. A separate 2010 study also concluded that “the federal income tax burden on dependent employer-sponsored coverage for same-sex couples (as well as other factors) results in lower levels of insurance for partnered gay and lesbian men as compared to their heterosexual counterparts.”
Schumer closed the hearing with what he called his favorite quote, “I would say to many in the audience who have waited for a very long time for many different things that, one of my favorite expressions is what Martin Luther King said…and that is the arc of history is long,but it bends in the direction of justice.”