Same-sex couples who were legally married in another state but who now live in Kansas will have to wait before they learn exactly how they'll be affected by last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a key element of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.
“There are a lot of things that are just uncertain at this point,” said Doug Bonney, legal director of the Kansas and western Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Bonney said it will probably take several weeks, or even months, for federal agencies to issue guidelines on how they intend to comply with the ruling.
The 5-4 ruling Wednesday said the federal government cannot deny marriage benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in a state or other jurisdiction that recognizes such marriages.
The big question, Bonney said, is whether the federal government will now extend that recognition based on where the couple married or where they currently live.
That's an important question for local couples like Lisa Rasor and Lori Wagner, who were married in Iowa, where same-sex marriages are recognized, but who live in Kansas, where they are not.
“It would be nice if Lisa could receive my Social Security benefits, or vice-versa, when one of us dies,” Wagner, a retired public school teacher, said. “Now, it's just gone, along with my Kansas pension.”
Immediately after the ruling Wednesday, President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he had "directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.
On Thursday, he went further, saying he personally believes the benefits should apply to all legally married same-sex couples, regardless of the state where they now live.
"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," the president said.
Federal agencies contacted by the Journal-World this week declined to discuss how the ruling would affect specific programs, referring instead back to the president's statement on Wednesday in which he said the Justice Department would help other agencies review statutes and policies that might be affected.
Among the federal programs where eligibility could change as a result of the decision:
• Social Security: The federal retirement and disability insurance program provides benefits to a surviving spouse if the spouse who died had earned enough credits to qualify for benefits.
• Medicaid: A joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and elderly. Medicaid is largely funded by the federal government, but states can set their own eligibility standards, as long as they meet minimum federal requirements.
The key criteria for Medicaid eligibility are household income and the number of people living in the household. The Kansas application form specifically asks people to identify their relationship to every other person in the home.
"It’s premature to speculate how this will impact enrollees of our programs, when we haven’t done the review yet," said Julie Brookhart, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the branch of Health and Human Services that administers those programs.
• Veterans benefits: The Department of Veterans Affairs administers several benefit programs for military veterans and their families. Eligibility for those programs varies, depending on the era and type of service. They include access to low interest VA home mortgages; pension benefits for surviving spouses; and educational benefits, including tuition reimbursement.
• Military personnel: Active duty soldiers receive many benefits that can also be extended to family members. Those include family health care coverage, access to housing on military bases and the right to shop at a Post Exchange on base.
George Marcec, the public affairs operations officer at Fort Leavenworth, said this week that all branches of the military will wait for guidance from the Department of Defense on how to apply those benefits to legal same-sex spouses of soldiers who are serving in Kansas.