What happens to federal benefits awarded to same-sex couples from Utah if the Court reverses Judge Shelby?

January 10th, 2014

According to Attorney General Holder’s directive (err press release), the United States government will offer the full panoply of marital benefits to those couples married during the period between Judge Shelby’s opinion and the Supreme Court stay.

“In the meantime, I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.  These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds. In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled – regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages.  And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”

So what happens if the Supreme Court reverses Judge Shelby? Let’s consider a few examples. Say a couple applies for social security benefits as a married couple. Would they have to reimburse the government with the additional amount received? Or, say someone facing deportation applies for citizenship based on their marriage. Would the proceedings begin again if the marriage is nullified? (Or even worse, could the citizenship be revoked). What if a federal tax return filed jointly results in a refund, whereas a return filed individually would result in a debt? Would the refund have to be returned? What if a federal employee obtains benefits for his or her spouse? Would those benefits be terminated?

So many questions.