Rights and responsibilities of marriages in the United States

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According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 1,138[1] statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges. These rights and responsibilities apply to only male-female couples, from the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Prior to the enactment of DOMA, the General Accounting Office (as the GAO was then called) identified 1,049[2] federal statutory provisions in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor. An update was published in 2004 by the GAO covering the period between September 21, 1996 (when DOMA was signed into law) and December 31, 2003. The update identified 120 new statutory provisions involving marital status, and 31 statutory provisions involving marital status repealed or amended in such a way as to eliminate marital status as a factor.

See below for a partial list of these provisions of federal law.


Rights and benefits



There are some laws that either benefit or penalize married couples over single people, depending upon their own circumstances:


In addition, community-property states frequently have forms of ownership that allow a full basis step-up on one's own share of community property on the death of a spouse (in addition to the normal step-up on spouse's assets).

Legal remedies enacted following the GAO report

Following the 2004 GAO report at least one bill, the Uniting American Families Act, has been proposed to attempt to remedy some of the differences in rights between same-sex partnerships and marriages.

See also


Further reading