The efforts of many people and organizations for marriage equality for lesbian and gay people received a big boost from the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2013 with two decisions on LGBT marriage.
Gay and lesbian couples have gradually been able to marry in many states based on state laws. However, until the U.S. v. Windsor decision struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, their marriages were not treated as valid for federal law purposes. Same-sex marriages are now treated the same as heterosexual marriages by the federal government under the U.S. v. Windsor decision. Some of the legal changes are:
A same-sex spouse can request a Green Card for his or her immigrant spouse.
Same-sex couples can file joint tax returns. They can also amend their 2010 and 2011 returns to file jointly.
Medical benefits for a same-sex spouse are not taxed as income. (Previously they were, and they still are for domestic partners.)
A same-sex spouse is eligible to include his or her spouse in a family flexible spending account if the spouse is otherwise eligible.
Inheritances from a same-sex spouse are exempt from federal Inheritance Tax.
Same-sex spouses are eligible for benefits under the Family Medical Leave Act and federal COBRA rules.
Same-sex spouses are entitled to Social Security benefits, based on the spouse’s earnings record if otherwise eligible.
Military same-sex spouses are eligible for military health and retirement benefits.
If the marriage ceremony occurred in a place where the marriage was legal, but the couple now lives in a state where gay marriage is not recognized, the couple is still eligible for federal benefits.
The separate Hollingsworth v. Perry case that was also decided on June 26, 2013 makes it possible for same-sex couples to marry again in California, which they had not been able to do since November 2008. Other states have been using the two decisions as precedents to legalize or recognize gay marriages in their states. Read more current information about the status of gay marriage in various states.
State laws still determine whether a same-sex marriage is recognized in that state for state purposes. State laws determine the right to marry itself, inheritance from a same-sex spouse, whether state tax filings can be joint, and other rights, such as hospital visitation.
The right to use the family court to get divorced is another right determined by the states. If a couple married in a state where divorce was legal, but moves to a state where it is not, it can be difficult to divorce. Some states, such as California, have an exception to the normal residence requirement for divorces so that couples that married in California can be divorced there, even if they don’t live there at the time of the divorce.
About the author: Sally Cooperrider has been practicing family law and mediation in San Jose for over 20 years, and is a graduate from Santa Clara University Law School. www.cooperriderlaw.com