The Federal Election Commission ruled Thursday that married gay couples must receive equal treatment under election laws, one of the first legal reverberations of the Supreme Court’s decision last month striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The FEC ruling, which allows gay couples to make political contributions jointly from the same bank account, was made in response to a filing by state Representative Daniel B. Winslow, Republican of Massachusetts.
Winslow petitioned the agency during his campaign for US Senate earlier this year. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee later echoed Winslow’s request.
Winslow, a former judge and chief legal counsel to former governor Mitt Romney, hailed the decision as “potentially huge.”
“It effectively doubles the free speech rights,” he told the Globe. “It effectively doubles the campaign buying power, if you will, of married gay couples in the United States. Up until now, there were two sets of rules.
“I won something,” joked Winslow, who finished a distant third in the Republican primary. “This is the silver lining.”
Winslow said he hopes to benefit from the decision by retiring roughly $150,000 in campaign debt in part through contributions from gay couples.
“There are gay married couples who, because of my support for equality, want to give me money, and I want to take it,” Winslow said.
Under the FEC ruling, the spouse of a gay candidate running for federal office is now considered a family member under campaign finance rules. Assets owned jointly by such couples can be used for campaign purposes.
The decision is a reversal of an earlier commission finding, which preceded the high court’s June decision striking down part of the law that effectively blocked the federal government from recognizing gay married couples as spouses. In the earlier finding, the FEC said it would revisit the matter if the court took such action.
Winslow petitioned the FEC after a gay couple who were married in Massachusetts sent a $500 check from a joint bank account, with instructions to split the donation equally. That would allow the contributions to have been counted separately toward their individual $2,600 contribution limits.
In Thursday’s ruling, the FEC said, “the commission concludes same-sex couples married under state law are ‘spouses’ for the purpose of commission regulations.”
Nationally, the Republican Party has struggled to articulate a unified approach toward gay marriage, with social conservatives who comprise much of its base opposed and many establishment Republicans fearful that a hard-line stance could cost the party politically.
During the Massachusetts Senate primary, gay marriage split the field, with Winslow and Gabriel E. Gomez, who won the primary but lost the general election to Edward J. Markey, in support and former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan opposed.
On Thursday, Winslow told the Globe that he hoped efforts like his FEC request would help the party broaden its appeal.
“My hope is that, by making a point in reaching [out] to women, to millennials, to new Americans, by making politics a matter of addition and not division, I can help to make the Republican Party relevant again,” he said.
The court’s DOMA ruling has opened the door to a massive trickle-down effect in federal rules and regulations by which marital status is codified. Legal specialists expect changes in a range of federal policy areas, from tax law to Social Security benefits.
globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.