IN THE legal and legislative posturing surrounding gay marriage, Cambridge has taken a noteworthy stand. It has become the first jurisdiction to begin making payments to same-sex married public employees to help defray federal tax costs that they wouldn’t have incurred had they been a married heterosexual couple. In doing so, Cambridge follows in the footsteps of many private employers, such as
The stipend will assist the 22 workers whose spouses chose to be covered by Cambridge’s employer-provided health insurance. But because their marriage is not recognized under federal law, the health coverage is considered taxable income. The new Cambridge stipend, which will cost the city a total of $33,000 per year, will offset those taxes.
Cambridge’s decision is another challenge to the 15-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. The Obama Administration has stated it will no longer defend the act against legal challenges, but it still remains on the books. A federal district court decision in Boston that held the provision of the marriage act that covers benefits unconstitutional is now being appealed. Senate critics of the act are seeking legislation to eliminate the tax on health insurance for same-sex partners and spouses.
As in New York state, whose legislature recently recognized same-sex marriage, jurisdictions will continue to explore ways in which gay marriage and gay rights can be recognized, despite federal law to the contrary. Cambridge’s actions may be mere symbolism in the grand scheme of things - but not to the 22 spouses of its employees.