Federal recognition of same-sex marriage benefits 'step in the right direction'


BOZEMAN, Mont. - A Bozeman couple told NBC Montana this week's government decision on same-sex marriage rights is a small step in the right direction. The Obama administration is now recognizing some key rights of all married same sex couples, even if they live in states where same-sex marriage is not allowed. Under the changes, same-sex families will now get all federal rights as married couples, including filing for bankruptcy, military survival benefits, and legal protections from testifying against their spouse. Here are some quick facts about the battle over same-sex marriage rights: Gay marriage is legal in 17 states including California, Washington, Vermont, and Washington D.C. In 2012, President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage, and is the first President to do so. Last year, the Supreme Court rejected part of the Defense Against Marriage Act, ruling same-sex spouses legally married may receive federal benefits. Soon after, the US Treasury Department ruled that legally married same-sex couples will be treated as married for tax purposes. And on Monday, the Department of Justice began considering same-sex marriage valid for purposes of marital privilege, even if the couple now lives in a state where same sex marriage is not legal or recognized. Some are calling it an over-reach, and think it's wrong for the administration to protect gay marriage. But many same sex couples are celebrating. "We are a family," said Richard Parker, "we have a 21-year old son." Richard Parker and Mike Long have been together for 12 years and got married last year in Washington State. "In the summer of last year when they ruled that one section of the Defense Against Marriage Act was unconstitutional," said Parker, "it opened up the floodgates to quite a few federal benefits for same-sex couples." They explained they wanted to receive some of the same benefits as married couples such as Social Security. This week, the government added on even more benefits. The Department of Justice will now give same sex marriages full and equal recognition to the "greatest extent possible under the law." Even in states like Montana that do not legally recognize gay marriage, couples just have to be married in a state where it's legal, like Parker and Long. We asked them how they think these privileges might affect same sex couples in Montana. "On a federal level, it's beneficial for same-sex couples to go get married in a sate where it is recognized," said Parker. "In this state, we still will not have any state rights or state protections." Even though they said they feel there's a long way to go, Parker and Long said this is a step forward. "It's a sign of a changing societal views," explained Long, "and changing societal views is reflecting in our willingness to embrace this idea." Richard Parker and Mike Long are currently plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the State with the American Civil Liberties Union. They want same-sex domestic partnerships like theirs to have access to at least some legal benefits and protections as heterosexual married couples on a state level.