With last month’s defeat of DOMA and California Prop 8, a huge victory was won in the fight for marriage equality for all. The mere thought of federal benefits for LGBT couples in states that recognize gay marriage makes me giddy. This historic decision has a sweeping impact for couples in terms of inheritance, taxes, social security and thousands of other federal benefits for couples who are married and reside in a state that recognizes gay marriage.
For the majority of us, the death of DOMA has no immediate benefit financially. While the victory is a game changer and moves us in the right direction, depending on what state you live in, the decision can feel more like being a guest at the party watching someone else eat cake.
At press time for this article, 13 states (plus District of Columbia) recognize gay marriage. That leaves 37 states that do not. While a portion of these states offer some limited state recognition via domestic partnership or other protections, it is safe to say that the majority of LGBT couples in the United States will not directly benefit from the ruling. (For an ongoing updated list of states and their status, visit Freedom to Marry here.)
The decision created as many questions as it answered as there remain a lot of ifs/ands/buts at the state level and the guidelines for retroactive enforcement remain unclear.
I believe there will be a positive ripple effect over time for all of us. In the meanwhile, how does this affect you personally? How do you see the current ruling affecting your decisions?
You Live in a Legally Recognized Marriage State
Congratulations! You have a lot to celebrate! You now have access to a wide swath of federal benefits you didn’t have before. That said, there are some burdens that may also come your way because certain tax moves that you could employ as an unmarried couple are no longer legal once married and the whole quagmire of divorce is now a reality should your partnership dissolve.
If you have not already legally married, are you planning to do so within the next 6-12 months?
If you are married, now is the time to get some professional tax, financial, or legal help to navigate this uncharted territory of federal benefits. Some answers will likely be straightforward (such as filing tax returns jointly) while others will require some due diligence to really understand what choices are available to you and their impact.
Human Resource Departments in affected states will be scrambling to update employee benefit plans to comply with legal recognition of marriage. A conversation with your employer’s benefits department would be worth your time.
You Do Not Live in a Legally Recognized Marriage State
While you might not be able to capitalize on federal benefits right now, it begs the question:
Would you consider relocating so you could legally marry and receive federal benefits?
I realize this is not an option for everyone and if we all moved to one state, the continent would be lopsided (a little humor!). Yet, if you are someone who:
Is considering moving for a new job opportunity.
Owns their own business where virtual work is an option.
Is ready to retire and searching for a place to relocate.
Works for a company with multiple locations in different states and can transfer to a new position.
Lives on the border of a state that legally recognizes marriage.
Will the DOMA decision affect your choices? Have your plans shifted in the last month?
The same-sex ruling may very well start to favor certain states. In fact some companies (particularly in the competitive New York/New Jersey region) have already started considering the implications. Will LGBT employees find companies in marriage states more enticing than others? Will it affect the talent pool, particularly of the younger, more mobile workforce?
If you own a company, how will it affect your business decisions?
Would love to hear your thoughts!
While the demise of DOMA offers some answers and raises many more questions, its place in history and progress is undeniable.
Paula Gregorowicz plucks business owners off the hamster wheel of overwhelm, struggle, and self-doubt and helps them create a life they love while building authentic, sustainable businesses. Learn more about her unique approach of practical action and inner awareness here.