Freedom to Marry and SAGE host panel demonstrating how DOMA hurts older couples

This morning at the National Press Club, Freedom to Marry and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) hosted a panel on how the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal respect for legal marriages between same-sex couples, uniquely and dramatically affects older same-sex couples. 

The discussion was moderated by CNN commentator Hilary Rosen and featured SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams, the Alliance for Retired Americans' senior legislative representative Sarah L. Byrne, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare's senior legislative representative Web Phillips.

The panel discussed the unique ways that DOMA harms LGBT elders, who must face financial hardships even while dealing with emotional and physical stresses of aging. For example, DOMA requires that the value of same-sex spouses' health insurance is treated as taxable income, which costs same-sex couples, on average, $1,069 more per year than married heterosexual couples. The lack of survivor benefits in Social Security, similarly, can cost legally married same-sex widows and widowers over $30,000 per year in lost income. 

Michael Adams, ED of SAGE, spoke about the importance of shining a light on how DOMA hurts older couples. He said:

Today's panel highlighted the importance of marriage equality for all older couples. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) elders are less financially secure and experience poorer health than American elders as whole. Yet they are frequently treated as second class citizens by the federal programs designed to protect older Americans, many of which are built on the presumption of marriage. Even in the few states that recognize marriage for same-sex couples, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents legally married spouses of the same sex from fully accessing benefits that can improve their health and economic well-being, from Social Security to retiree health and survivorship benefits.

Paul Nathanson, who serves as executive director of the National Senior Citizens Law Center, added:

There's nothing more frightening than aging with the threat of financial instability hanging over you -- and that's just what DOMA means to married gay and lesbian couples. Instead of protecting them, the law persecutes them because of who they love. Social Security spousal and survivor benefits are often critical to keeping older people out of poverty. These benefits should be available to all married couples - regardless of gender. We'll keep fighting until DOMA is gone for good.

Freedom to Marry founder and President Evan Wolfson was not able to attend the event, but in a statement, he spoke today about how DOMA's impact on older couples. He said:

There is no shortage of examples showing the ways the so-called Defense of Marriage Act harms families -- especially older couples who have paid into the system all their lives only to have it treat them as 'second-class' when they need it most. There's no excuse for the federal government's unfair treatment of these families, and Freedom to Marry will continue to work to overturn DOMA and give these families the justice they need and deserve. 

Learn more about how DOMA hurts LGBT seniors with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders' guide: "Social Security Benefits and the Defense of Marriage Act: Can I Do Anything Now to Preserve My Rights?"