Suze Orman recently penned a column detailing the inequities between heterosexual couples and same-sex couples when it comes to federal benefits. Inequities that, hopefully, will be corrected when the Supreme Court hears cases related to DOMA this spring.
Speaking on her own relationship with her partner, Kathy Travis, Orman writes:
If the federal government recognized same-sex marriage, then when one of us dies our assets would seamlessly transfer free of tax to the survivor. That's a basic right that every heterosexual married couple has.
But because there is no federal recognition of same-sex marriage, if I die first, or vice versa, before either of us can inherit what is now jointly our assets, there would be a federal estate tax bill that one of us would currently have to pay. Again, to be clear: If we were a heterosexual married couple, there would be no estate tax regardless of the size of the estate or who died first.
Orman goes on to detail other issues, specifically with Social Security:
Married heterosexual couples can maximize their Social Security retirement benefits by taking advantage of the highest-earner's benefit. When both spouses are alive, the lower earner can opt to collect a monthly benefit check that is equal to 50% of his or her spouse's benefit. For many married couples, that 50% spousal benefit is often much higher than what the lower-wage-earning spouse could collect based on his or her own earnings record. Most important, when the high earner dies, the surviving spouse is allowed to collect 100% of the deceased's higher benefit.
Because same-sex marriages aren't recognized on the federal level, gay and lesbian couples are not eligible for Social Security spousal benefits. The lower earner cannot claim any benefits based on the higher earner's benefit. A heterosexual couple married for just a few months is able to collect a federal benefit that same-sex couples who have been together for decades can't.
And finally, on health insurance, Orman details that the current regulations are costing same-sex couples nearly $200 million in additional costs and employers nearly $60 million.
Health insurance is another area of severe federal financial discrimination against gay couples. I am so glad to see more employers extending health insurance benefits to same-sex partners. But because same-sex couples are not considered legally married under the eyes of the federal government, the dollar value of the health coverage is considered taxable income.
A 2007 study estimated that this gay health insurance penalty costs same-sex couples an aggregate $178 million ($1,069 per household), while employers paid an additional $57 million in payroll tax on that taxable income. No heterosexual married couple or their employers pay that penalty.
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