Kim’s Corner: Ramifications of Same-Sex Marriage

  • by

“All Kinds of Kinds” – Miranda Lambert

Thomas was a congressman with closets full of skeletons
And dresses that he wore on Friday nights…

Now some point a finger and let ignorance linger
If they’d look in the mirror they’d find.
That ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds.
All kinds of kinds.
All kinds of kinds.

Happy November! November is a month to give thanks for the things that we have and the blessings in our lives. As we enter the holiday season, I always hope that people are thinking of others. The words from the song above make me very happy. This song is one of more than just tolerance. It is one of acceptance. In spite of differences, we are all important and keep the world spinning. I am proud to have been named the volunteer of the year for Spencer Pride, Inc. I continue to meet people who desire acceptance of others.

Due to the fact that I am divorced, and volunteer for Spencer Pride events, I have had people question my sexuality. I am 100% straight. I smile when people ask. I say that volunteering for homeless people does not make me homeless. Volunteering my time for public education friendly political candidates does not make me a politician. These are things that I like doing to help others. We do not always to these things due to our own personal needs. Selfishly, I continue to work with Spencer Pride because I have made such wonderful friends and would miss them terribly if I were to stop.

I have taken my involvement in Spencer Pride to a new level. I have been invited to participate in a conference in California this December to do a presentation on the effects of the legalization of gay marriage on domestic partner benefits. As everyone knows, gay marriage is now legal. The U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor overturned a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This has changed employee benefits for same-sex couples.

U.S. v. Windsor is a landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that restricting the U.S. federal interpretation of marriage and spouse. To apply only to opposite-sex unions is unconstitutional. Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer lived in New York, but were married in Canada in 2007. Thea died in 2009. She left her entire estate to Edith. Edith tried to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. She was not allowed to do so, due to Section 3 of DOMA, as the term spouse only applied to marriages between a man and a woman. The IRS made the decision that the exemption did not apply to same-sex marriages and denied Edith’s claim. She would have to pay $363,053 in estate taxes.

On November 9, 2010, Edith filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking a refund because DOMA singled out legally married same-sex couples for differential treatment. On February 3, 2011, U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced that the Department of Justice would not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. On June 6, 2012, Judge Barbara S. Jones ruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional under the due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment and ordered the federal government to issue the tax refund, plus interest. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision that declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional.

Section 3 of DOMA had limited the definition of marriage and spouse to opposite sex unions. It also made same-sex spouses eligible for the same employee benefits and privileges regarding federal laws and taxes as opposite-sex spouses. Many employers began offering domestic partner benefits because same-sex couples had no option to marry. Eventually, domestic partner benefits were also provided for many opposite-sex couples as well.

With the Windsor decision, many U.S. employers will be making changes to same-sex domestic partner benefits and are also altering benefits now provided to opposite-sex couples. According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31% of workers in private industry had access to health care benefits for same-sex partners and 26% had access to plans that provide health care benefits to opposite-sex partners. While some companies are changing their domestic partner benefits following the Windsor ruling, Wal-Mart will provide benefits to same-sex or opposite-sex partners with whom the employee has been in an exclusive and on-going relationship for at least a year.

In August, 2013, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS ruled that same-sex couples who were legally married will be treated as married for federal tax purposes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In September, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a release stating that it will interpret the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA), which governs most employer-provided retirement and health plans, to include same-sex and opposite-sex spouses regardless of the state in which they live. Marriage is now required. ERISA covers only spouses and will not be extended to domestic partners. Many companies across the United States will likely end their domestic partner benefits. When domestic partner programs are eliminated, the employer may provide a grace period of several months for the couple to marry.

There are still many questions about what benefits will be for same-sex couples. Until additional guidance and regulations are issued by the IRS and the DOL, employers may not make changes to domestic partner benefits. In summary, federal or state law is not concerned with holy matrimony. Government deal with marriage as a civil status. Edith Windsor state that when she and her partner met nearly 50 years earlier that they never dreamed that their marriage would be viewed by the Supreme Court as “an example of why gay married couples should be treated equally, and not like second-class citizens.”

The differentiation of same-sex and opposite-sex couples insults the same-sex couple AND humiliates tens of thousands of children being raised by those couples. Section 3 of DOMA makes it difficult for those children to understand the closeness of their own family in comparison to that of other families in their community.

All families matter…Happy Thanksgiving!