What the DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

The high court's decision will mean LGBT couples of color will have access to more than 1,000 legal benefits through marriage.

By Imara Jones Jun 26, 2013

The Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act decision Wednesday is a major victory for the economic justice of LGBT Americans of color. That’s because LGBT couples of color have higher rates of poverty and are more likely to have children in their household than white LGBT couples. Consequently, LGBT couples need the financial shot in the arm that the legal recognition of marriage can give. Today’s ruling will help to ensure that some of America’s neediest couples receive it.

Marriage–through over 1,000 legal benefits–provides couples recognized by the law key economic benefits. The New York Times calculates that these can total close to $500,000 over the course of a couple’s lifetime. These include more than $200,000 in health benefits and almost $100,000 in social security benefits. LGBT couples need these economic advantages more than almost anyone else.

Why? Well for one, as demographer Gary Gates told the New York Times, "Black and Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children." But they are dramatically more likely to be doing so in economic hardship. 

According to the last census, "African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate of any children in any household type." LGBT Latino households with children are also poorer than LGBT white households. Shockingly, the poorest LBGT households of color are those with children under the age of five.

Therefore, with people of color more likely to identify as gay, be in couples and have children than whites, today’s ruling is a badly needed boost for this group of Americans largely overlooked by the mainstream.

As I have written before, "extreme bigotry has dire economic consequences." Today’s DOMA decision is an important step towards alleviating those disparities. But it’s probably not enough.

After celebrating this historic legal victory, it might be just as important to tackle the root causes of poverty amongst LGBT people of color–namely job and education discrimination–which makes the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier so important in the first place.