HRC Blog

Nebraska Lawmakers Hold Hearing on DOMA’s Impact on State Residents

Nebraska state flag

Last week, I had the opportunity to testify on behalf of HRC at a hearing at Nebraska’s state capitol. Nebraska lawmakers convened a hearing in response to U.S. v.Windsor, the landmark Supreme Court decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the impact of this decision on Nebraska’s LGBT community.  With DOMA no longer on the books, legally married same-sex couples nationwide will be recognized by the federal government for many programs and benefits.  However, many couples living in states without marriage recognition still face barriers to receiving full access to benefits and recognition.  Last week’s hearing focused on the impact of these restrictions on Nebraska’s same-sex married couples.

In determining whether a couple is legally married, federal programs either look to the laws of the state where the couple lives or to where the couple married.  This means that although Nebraska does not recognize same-sex marriage, legally married same-sex couples in Nebraska will be recognized by the federal government for many benefits.  As a result, same-sex couples living in Nebraska will be forced to navigate conflicting recognition requirements on the federal and state level.   For example, for federal tax purposes the IRS now considers same-sex couples to be “married” if the couple married in a state where the relationship would be recognized.  Although Nebraska law requires taxpayers to use their federal status to file state income tax, the Nebraska Department of Revenue published special guidance in October requiring same-sex married couples to file as “single” as if they were unmarried.   This conflict places an additional burden on same-sex married couples who will not only forfeit state marriage benefits, but will often pay additional costs in order to comply with complex state requirements. 

Same-sex couples living in Nebraska will face even harsher effects of Nebraska’s non-recognition law when it comes to  the federal safety net programs, like Social Security, that look to the laws of the state where the couple lives to determine eligibility.  Social Security currently provides critical benefits for families following the death or disability of a spouse. For many, this monthly payment is a lifeline and can provide spousal benefits of up to $20,000 per year.  However, despite lifetime contribution to the system, surviving same-sex spouses in Nebraska will be considered ineligible to receive benefits because they are not considered “married” by their home state. 

Last week’s hearing was an important step towards increasing awareness about the impacts of state non-recognition in the wake of DOMA.  For more information on the hearing visit: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/.  For information on how U.S. v. Windsor may impact you visit HRC.org/supremecourt.

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