In light of the announcement on Wednesday from Attorney General Eric Holder that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will no longer defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), experts at the Williams Institute have provided us with legal analysis and new research on the number of married same-sex couples in the United States.
Brad Sears, Executive Director, The Williams Institute stated, “Today’s decision by President Obama is a landmark moment in the history of the LGBT rights movement. For the first time, a US President and his administration have formally acknowledged that sexual orientation should be treated with heightened scrutiny. By taking this position, the Administration indicates not only that DOMA is unconstitutional, but that virtually all forms of discrimination against LGBT people are. The legal history of the LGBT rights movement is filled with a long line of cases listing the federal government as defendant; at least under this Administration, that line has been broken.”
Lee Badgett, Research Director, The Williams Institute added, “If the federal government recognizes legal marriages by same-sex couples, between 50,000 and 80,000 same-sex couples would be recognized for purposes of federal law. These couples would be treated as married by the tax code, social security programs, federal employee benefits, and many other programs. If civil union-like relationships are also included, another 85,000 same-sex couples would also be covered by those programs.”
Williams Institute Research has shown:
• Approximately 50,000 same-sex couples have married, based on the number of couples who have married in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire, according to administrative data from those states, and used estimates for same-sex couples marrying in California and the District of Columbia.
• A previous study of same-sex couples conducted last year estimated that 80,000 same-sex couples reported being legally married. This suggests that as many as 30,000 same-sex couples might have married in other countries, most likely in Canada.
• Another 85,000 same-sex couples have entered civil unions or domestic partnerships (i.e. those statuses with the same state rights and obligations of marriage) in Vermont, California, New Jersey, Oregon, New Hampshire, Washington, and Nevada.
• Altogether, these figures suggest that 9% of same-sex couples have married in the United States, along with as many as 5% more in other countries; and 15% are in civil union-like legal relationships.
• Altogether, 28% of the 581,300 same-sex couples in the United States are in legally recognized relationships that are marriages or a state-level equivalent.
The Williams Institute advances sexual orientation law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates it to judges, legislators, policymakers, media and the public. A national think tank at UCLA Law, the Williams Institute produces high quality research with real-world relevance.