Mediating Conflict,
Embracing Peace

US Supreme Court recognizes gay marriages

The title may be catchy, but the short answer is yes and no. Yes. The Supreme Court’s ruling allows state same-sex marriages federal government benefits previously denied to these unions. This affects federal benefits for tax, retirement, estate, immigration and federal employee benefits-including the military. No. Those states that refuse to acknowledge gay nuptials may continue to do so. This is a multi-part blog. The first part provides background information about how this came before the Supreme Court, and subsequent part(s) explain the impact of this historic ruling

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). President Clinton signed DOMA into effect in 1996. DOMA was in response to the fact that some states were considering same-sex weddings, but no state had enacted a law permitting it yet.

DOMA restricted the federal definition of marriage between a man and a woman. This applied to over 1,000 federal laws that addressed an individual’s marital or spousal status covering federally regulated areas; such as, military, IRS, Social Security Administration, Department of Defense, etc.

States were free to enact their own laws and state benefits recognizing same-sex matrimony. This meant if you were a gay couple married in the state of Washington, your were legally married under Washington state law but not under the federal government. And you were ineligible for marital or spousal related federal benefits.

This was the scenario in United States v. Windsor. Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer lived and were registered as domestic partners in New York City. Although they married in Canada (Ontario) 2007, they continued to reside in New York and their marriage was valid under New York state laws. Thea died in 2009, leaving her entire estate to her wife, Edith. Because the federal government did not recognize their marriage, Edith was ineligible for the marital exemption from the IRS’s federal estate tax (a federal tax you pay on the property you transfer at your death). Edith paid about $363,000 for estate taxes. The IRS denied her refund under DOMA as she was not a “surviving spouse.”

The next blog posts will comment upon the benefits legally married same-sex couples can now receive from the federal government. If you are a same-sex couple seeking to get married in Washington or are married in Washington, you may want to consult a divorce attorney to discuss entering into a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement to protect your assets.