WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court extended the right to marry to same-sex couples nationwide in a landmark ruling on Friday.
It’s more than a civil rights victory for LGBT couples across the country, it’s a financial win.
The court on this same day in 2013 struck down a law that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. But it was still banned in 13 states: Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas and Tennessee.
Once the Supreme Court’s ruling takes effect in two weeks, those states must recognize same-sex couples who were married in a state where it already was legal. And those states must issue marriage licenses to couples who want to get married now.
Over the past two years, couples in those states had been denied some federal and state benefits that heterosexual married couples enjoy. They could have been missing out on thousands of dollars each year.
Now, here’s what can change for them.
Social Security: Without state recognition of your marriage, you don’t get the same benefits from Social Security that heterosexual married couples enjoy. So married same-sex couples who live in those 13 states, could now see bigger checks from Social Security in retirement.
The spousal benefit can help couples while both are still living when one spouse makes more than the other. The payment of the lower-earnig spouse could be increased to half of the other spouse’s payment. On average, that’s an extra $780 a month that same-sex spouses may miss out on, according to a report from the Human Rights Campaign.
Couples will now also be eligible for the Social Security survivor benefit, which you receive when one spouse dies. If your deceased spouse’s Social Security benefit was bigger, you are entitled to that check instead of yours. If you aren’t married, you don’t get that option.
Same-sex couples will now also qualify for the one-time payment of $255 that the Social Security Administration gives to surviving spouses to help with expenses like burials.
Health benefits: If you’re not legally married, you may not be able to receive health benefits from your partners’ company the way heterosexual married couples can. Although 66% of Fortune 500 companies do extend health benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, that can lead to higher taxes for both the employee and employer.
Income tax: Filing taxes has been tricky for same-sex couples — especially for those who tied the knot, but live in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.
For instance, Dave Greenbaum and Mike Silverman live in Kansas, so they had to file jointly at the federal level and as individuals to the state last year.
This meant they had to pay their accountant hundreds of extra dollars to file their taxes. In addition to the cost of extra paperwork, they estimate that they’re losing out on $450 a year by filing separately.
Not all couples will benefit from filing jointly. If two partners earn about the same amount of money, filing their taxes jointly could possibly put them in a higher tax bracket than if they filed separately and bump up their tax bill.
Inheritance rights: When you die, your spouse has legal rights to your inheritance — but it’s not automatic if you’re marriage isn’t recognized. Mark Phariss and Vic Homes have been together for 18 years, but they won’t get married until it’s legal in their home state of Texas. Their attorney advised them to refer to each other as “best friends” rather than “partners” in their will. That way, it would be harder to successfully challenge the will in Texas court.
Medical decisions: In the event one partner in a same-sex relationship becomes ill, the other partner might not be legally allowed to make some important health decisions.
“There is always the fear of one of us experiencing a serious health issue health and the other not being able to make decisions for the other,” said Ed Williams. He and his partner Ron Emery have been together for 30 years, but they’re waiting for Missouri to recognize same-sex marriage before tying the knot.