Trust and Estate Counsel

Tennessee Estate Planning Law

Insight and commentary on estate planning issues impacting affluent residents of Tennessee

President Terminates Enforcement of Defense of Marriage Act

I previously wrote about Edith Windsor, who was required to pay $350,000 of estate taxes because her deceased spouse was a woman rather than a man. This tax was caused by the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which classifies same sex married couples as unmarried for purposes of federal taxation and various benefits.

President Obama has decided that certain portions of DOMA are unconstitutional and has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court, including the pending appeal in the Windsor case.

There are many people who agree with the President’s assessment of the constitutionality of DOMA. Nevertheless, it is not the President’s job to determine the constitutionality of laws that have been enacted. Laws may be changed by Congress or ruled to be unconstitutional by the judicial branch of the government. It would create chaos if the President is allowed to prohibit enforcement of laws that he does not like.

If DOMA is overturned by Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court, this will be a watershed event for same sex married couples. There are numerous tax and non-tax benefits provided to couples who are treated as married by the federal government.