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Pride and politics: DOMA strike down doesn't do much for gay Texans, unless spouse is foreign

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The Supreme Court's DOMA strikedown offers federal benefits to same-sex marriage . . . but Texas gay couples continue to be cut from state incentives. Frrole.com
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John Nechman, noted Houston attorney and 2013 Pride Parade grand marshal John Nechman/Twitter
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John Nechman, left, and partner Ricardo Ruiz John Nechman/Facebook
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The Supreme Court decision solidifies the federal rights of gay married couples, while many state laws remain murky and restrictive. Polit.ru
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John Nechman head shot gay pride lawyer Houston
John Nechman and Ricardo Ruiz
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Houston's annual Pride Festival and Parade was extra festive Saturday night, just days after the Supreme Court's move to strike down a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

And while the monumental decision marks a new chapter in the nation's struggle for civil equality, the story largely remains the same for gay couples looking to marry in Texas — a U.S. state, like more than 30 others, that maintains its own DOMA legislation, which "does not recognize a marriage or civil union between persons of the same sex."

To cut through some of the noise regarding the new Supreme Court ruling, CultureMap spoke with prominent Houston attorney and LGBT advocate John Nechman, who just so happened to be a grand marshal at last weekend's Pride celebrations.

"While this is a huge historic moment for same-sex couples across the nation, the DOMA decision may not be as exciting as a lot of people in Texas are thinking," Nechman says, adding that the Supreme Court only removed the final section of three in the original legislative act, which is arranged like so:

  • Sec. 1 — The title of the Act
  • Sec. 2 — No state is required to accept or deny another state's laws on same-sex marriages
  • Sec. 3 — Defines marriage as a "legal union between one man and one woman" (deemed unconstitutional)

By overruling Section 3 and leaving Section 2 intact, the Supreme Court has pushed for federal marriage equality while leaving state laws virtually untouched. In the end, the ruling still fails to guarantee equal access to federal marriage benefits, many of which depend on where a couple is married or where a couple lives.

"Those who live in state that recognizes gay marriage will be full-fledged equal citizens under the law with state and federal benefits," Nechman says. "However, if a married same-sex couple moves from Massachusetts to Texas, they have what Ruth Bader Ginsburg calls a skim-milk marriage. They'll have some federal benefits, but it remains unclear if they'll get all of them."

"If a married same-sex couple moves from Massachusetts to Texas, they have what Ruth Bader Ginsberg cal ls a skim-milk marriage."

The attorney specifically points to Social Security benefits, which are based on where the married couple lives. In states like Texas where same-sex unions aren't recognized, married gay couples will be "out of luck," he says.

But same-sex couples can take advantage of the new DOMA ruling when it comes to one of the nation's other hot-button issues — immigration, which is a federal issue not overseen by the states. The New York Times reports that late last Friday, an American man in Florida and his husband, who is from Bulgaria, were the first same-sex married couple to be approved for a permanent resident visa since the Supreme Court stuck down the federal law against same-sex marriage.

The couple married in New York last year and applied for a green card in February. They reside in Florida, which does not recognize gay marriage.

Nechman suspects the ramifications will be unprecedented for Texas as well, and the Bayou City in particular.

"I don't think people in Houston realize how many bi-national same-sex couples there are in the city," he says. "Immigration laws are federal laws and getting rid of DOMA means opening up the opportunity for all U.S. citizens to sponsor their partners for permanent residence."

Still confused? The Times has an easy-to-understand graphic that explains how the rulings affect gay couples in Texas and all other states.

Nechman is quick to note that the battle for equality continues . . . He can't help but highlight the mounting support for universal marriage equality.

"Even though there are only 13 states that recognize gay marriage, that already involves more than 100 million citizens — a full third of the country," Nechman says. "Illinois and Michigan appear to be right on the cusp, which would mean half the nation's population."

In the coming weeks, Nechman's firm Katine & Nechman plans to post several "Know Your Rights" videos on it website to clarify current opportunities for married same-sex couples.

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