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After DOMA Ruling, Government Scrambles To Adjust

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After DOMA Ruling, Government Scrambles To Adjust

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After DOMA Ruling, Government Scrambles To Adjust

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

At gay pride events throughout the country this past weekend, marchers celebrated the Supreme Court's rulings on same-sex marriage. Now, the rainbow flags are giving way to calculators and sharp pencils, as gay and lesbian couples start to grapple with the rulings' practical impact; in particular, the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. And President Obama has now directed cabinet members to extend federal recognition to same-sex marriages for the first time.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports that will be easier for some agencies than others.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The ink was barely dry on Justice Kennedy's historic decision last week, when tax advisor Tina Salandra began hearing from her clients. Salandra is a CPA in New York City, and a big part of her practice is gay and lesbian couples.

TINA SALANDRA: Many of my clients have emailed me and their question is: Should I file an amended return? Should we file an amended return? And my answer to them is we need to really look at their tax situation and whether or not it will be beneficial.

HORSLEY: Gay and lesbian couples who married in New York, or one of the dozen other states that allow same-sex weddings, can now file joint tax returns with the federal government. In some cases in which that saves money, couples may want to go back and file for three previous years.

SALANDRA: For couples where you have a single wage earner, a stay-at-home parent or a very low wage-earner, married-filing-jointly could be very much a benefit and therefore, those couples would want to do an amended tax return.

HORSLEY: For couples who live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, this and hundreds of other federal benefits should soon flow automatically. But for others, the situation is more complicated. Salandra has many gay clients who married in New York but live in neighboring New Jersey, where same-sex-marriage is not recognized. That's a challenge, she says, because tax status is normally dictated by the state in which you live.

SALANDRA: This is very new territory for the IRS, where marriage is not recognized in every state of the 50 United States.

HORSLEY: The IRS says it's reviewing the Supreme Court ruling and it promised revised guidance in the near future. Those rules could be changed administratively. President Obama has already made his opinion clear.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's my personal belief, but I'm speaking now as a president as opposed to as a lawyer, that if you've been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you're still married.

HORSLEY: Already, the Defense Department and the agency that oversees the federal workforce have said they plan to offer full employment benefits to married same-sex couples, no matter where they live. The Department of Homeland Security is taking the same approach to immigration.

That's a relief to Inger Knudson, who married her British wife in Iowa last year, but lives in Colorado, where their same-sex marriage is not recognized. After spending a fortune on airplane tickets and long-distance phone calls, Knudson is looking forward to sponsoring her wife for a permanent resident visa.

INGER KNUDSON: This is a monumental change in our future. And I'm so grateful. I haven't the words to express how much better already our lives are.

HORSLEY: But while immigration law focuses only on the state where a couple got married, Social Security pays attention to the state where a couple lives. That could pose a problem for gay couples living in states that don't recognize their marriage. And it could take an act of Congress, not just a presidential order, to change the Social Security rules.

Legal director Brian Moulton, of the Human Rights Campaign, says that's a drawback of the current patchwork system. In a society as mobile as ours, he argues, marriage licenses should be portable.

BRIAN MOULTON: Same-sex married couples shouldn't be restricted from doing the things that, you know, heterosexual married folks do, like retiring to another state or moving for work or family purposes because they're worried that crossing state lines means suddenly they'll lose out on the important federal benefits and protections.

HORSLEY: Of course, there are costs to marriage, as well as benefits. Some married couples will end up paying more in taxes. And Moulton says some will find a spouse's income disqualifies them for means-tested programs like Medicaid.

MOULTON: The reality of your marriage being recognized is that there are both benefits and obligations.

HORSLEY: As the vows say, for better or for worse, just like straight couples.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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