The Supreme Court Wednesday struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, ruling the 17-year-old law was unconstitutional. In a very close, 5-4 decision, the majority of justices found that same-sex couples legally married in states allowing the unions should receive federal benefits.
The ruling directly affects the 130,000 legally married, same-sex couples who were previously denied federal benefits, as well as 1,100 federal statutes on veterans' benefits, tax laws and family medical leave provisions. But Wednesday's ruling is just the beginning. "Whether or not DOMA is repealed, there are a number of questions that arise,” says Wells Fargo advisor Kyle Young. “There’s a lot of misinformation about what these cases might do for the gay community.” Despite the Supreme Court ruling, many couples will still be ineligible to receive federal spousal benefits for now, as a majority of individual states still do not allow same-sex marriage.
Currently, only the 12 states and Washington D.C., which allow same-sex marriages, are expected to gain federal benefits because the marriage is recognized there. The seven states that grant domestic partnerships and civil unions are up for debate.
But advisors with LGBT clients should be prepared for an onslaught of questions following the decisions. While advisors may not have all the answers—even the highest legal minds in the land do not—it’s a good time to review the plans already in place and make sure clients are prepared for whatever comes next. “This is an opportunity to really guide clients through this process,” Young says. “This [decision] is the first step, but not the end.”