Missouri Same-Sex Couples Can Access Federal Benefits After Supreme Court DOMA Ruling

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When the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this summer, local gay rights advocates celebrated -- even if the landmark decision had little immediate impact for a state like Missouri, which still has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But in the months since that decision, organizations in Missouri have been learning that there are several indirect ways that the Supreme Court action benefits LGBT people here -- even if the state is far away from achieving marriage equality.

And yesterday, PROMO, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, began spreading the word about national news that could be very significant for some local gay couples: The IRS, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services affirmed that the federal government will recognize certain benefits regardless of the fact that states like Missouri may not recognize gay marriage.

See also: St. Louis Gay Couple Among First to Apply for Green Card Post-DOMA Ruling

"It continues to inform the story that we are trying to get out there," A.J. Bockelman, PROMO executive director, tells Daily RFT. "It humanizes the situation. When people hear marriage, they often times immediately default to images of veils, flowers and church. But these are the real tangible components that make up marriage, the most important parts of what we are trying to get -- basic benefits and rights."

Two key benefits from yesterday's national announcements are federal taxes and equal coverage for Medicare in nursing homes for married same-sex couples.

The only Missouri couples that are impacted by these developments, however, are the ones who were legally married in one of the thirteen states (or the District of Columbia) where gay marriage is currently on the books.

PROMO's post after the DOMA ruling in June. - via Facebook / PROMO
PROMO's post after the DOMA ruling in June.

From the Department of the Treasury:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) today ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

"Today's ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve," Secretary Jacob Lew says in a statement along with that announcement.

On a second front, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its first guidance implementing the Supreme Court's decision on DOMA (a ruling which said that it is unconstitutional to deny federal benefits to same-sex couples). That release says:

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a memo clarifying that all beneficiaries in private Medicare plans have access to equal coverage when it comes to care in a nursing home where their spouse lives.

As PROMO plugged it on Facebook:

The fact that the IRS will be recognizing all married gay couples regardless of the laws in their state came as a welcome surprise, says Bockelman.

"I just yelled, 'Holy crap, this is huge!'" he says. "Quite honestly, the IRS piece is really surprising."

Bockelman says that there are more than 10,000 LGBT couples in the state who are raising children, though it's difficult to know how many were legally married in other states.

The DOMA ruling has had other important impacts in Missouri -- allowing one St. Louis gay couple apply to apply for a green card, for example, and also boosting one man's court battle to access Missouri surviving partner benefits.

As we've reported, PROMO is teaming up with the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri to host town hall meetings on post-DOMA actions in the state.

Yesterday's announcements pushes forward the drive to bring gay marriage to Missouri, says Bockelman who notes that while many are eager for full equality, citizens at the town halls understand it will take time.

"We certainly see the entire spectrum. We see people who don't understand why it can't happen now," he says, adding, "By and large, people are fully aware of where they live and understand that it's not going to be simple."

Here's info on PROMO's upcoming town halls:

Saint Louis: September 12, 2013 Where: St. Louis City Library: Carpenter Branch Downstairs Conference Room 3309 S. Grand Blvd. St. Louis, MO 63118 Time: 6-8:00pm

Columbia: September 18, 2013 Where: Activity and Rec Center (ARC) Room A 1701 West Ash Street Columbia, MO 65203 Time: 6-8:00pm

Kansas City: September 19, 2013 Where: Lucile H. Bluford Branch of the Kansas City Public Library Bluford Conference Center 3050 Prospect Avenue Kansas City, MO 64128 Time: 6-8:00pm

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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