Last week, the United States took a big step forward in the fight for full marriage equality. But as big of a step as it was, this required no big-ticket signing ceremony by the President, and no blood had to be spilled on the floor of Congress. Last Thursday, both the United States Department of the Treasury and the United States Department of Health and Human Services announced significant policy changes for legally married same sex couples.
Directly from the Department of the Treasury…
“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve,” said Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”
Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.
Any same-sex marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or a foreign country will be covered by the ruling. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.
This is a new day for marriage equality in the USA. The ability for legally married same-sex couples to be recognized by their country is huge. Now I know that most people associate taxes with boring (or sometimes even painful) legal work, but for the purposes equality, they really are much more than that. Tax information is a legal record of one’s marriage, of a life together, and even of spousal history. Think about it… if you want to know something about your family tree, where are some of the first places that you look? The research begins with birth records, but then you incorporate marriage certificates, tax information, and other sorts of government proof that your forebears existed. From this point forward, those same records are going to existed for same sex spouses, and they’ll exist regardless of what state they live in. The “unwritten history” of same sex relationships is finally getting written in a critical way.
The Medicare ruling is just as important. It affirms the rights of same sex spouses to grow old together, and removes the pre-existing barriers to do so. Directly from the HHS press release…
“HHS is working swiftly to implement the Supreme Court’s decision and maximize federal recognition of same-sex spouses in HHS programs,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Today’s announcement is the first of many steps that we will be taking over the coming months to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision and to ensure that gay and lesbian married couples are treated equally under the law.”
“Today, Medicare is ensuring that all beneficiaries will have equal access to coverage in a nursing home where their spouse lives, regardless of their sexual orientation,” said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “Prior to this, a beneficiary in a same-sex marriage enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan did not have equal access to such coverage and, as a result, could have faced time away from his or her spouse or higher costs because of the way that marriage was defined for this purpose.”
One segment of the American Population that is still very much in the shadows are GLBT seniors. Very often in the end of their lives, these people have been forced apart because they had no way to validate their relationships. At a time when most people cherish each and every day with their partners, GLBT seniors have been left to spend their old age alone.
Finally, just today, the Obama administration announced that same sex spouses of Veterans are now fully eligible for all of the benefits that their heterosexual counterparts receive, ending yet another long-standing discriminatory practice under Defense of Marriage Act.
As these dominoes against full marriage equality continue to fall, it puts states like Texas in a very precarious position. They are now forced to recognize same sex couples at the federal level, even as the state government continues its path of discrimination. As stated above, things like a tax document, nursing home bill or a veteran’s check are much more than just paper. For the hundreds of thousands of same sex spouses out there, they are mounting evidence that will stand up in court. If states like Texas are smart, they’ll repeal the bans, and enter the 21st century with the rest of us.
Congratulations to all of you spouses who have fought the fight this long. Now you can celebrate, and look forward to a new measure of DIGNITY.