What is it about July 9, 2015, that makes it a historic day in the United States? Most people would have no idea. But for the estimated thirteen percent of the population who identify themselves as being lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders (LGBT), July 9, 2015, was the day that marriage between any two people of marriageable age became the law in all fifty states. This was the direct result of the Supreme Court decision the month before which ruled that couples of the same sex had the right to marry under the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples. Constitutionally, all the rights and responsibilities of marriage are now guaranteed for all United States citizens. But what does this mean? What are some of the implications of this historic Supreme Court ruling? Let’s take a look at some of the areas the Marriage Equality Act touches on. We have asked Norman Reilly, an expert in the Marriage Equality Act to answer the most pertinent questions regarding the Act.
Is there Marriage Equality everywhere?
Well, no. Not in the whole world. The United States same-sex marriage law affects the largest population worldwide, 327 million people. In Europe, same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. Other countries where same-sex marriage is legal include Canada, South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, parts of Mexico, New Zealand, Greenland and Australia. It looks like Taiwan will be the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage as the Taiwanese High Court ruled in favor of such unions in May 2017.
Which country was the first to legalize same-sex marriage?
It should not be a shock to learn that the first country to legalize same-sex marriage was socially progressive Holland (the Netherlands) in 2001.
What ensues the Marriage Equality Act
Basically, the Marriage Equality Act guarantees the same civil rights to same-sex married partners that opposite-sex couples have enjoyed for many years.
What new provisions do same-sex marriages receive?
It is easier to address these questions by looking at a “Before the Marriage Equality Act” scenario. Let me tell you about a same-sex couple I have known for years. Billy and Russell met in college and had been together for two decades when Russell had a hang gliding accident and was hospitalized. The only person who could legally give the hospital instructions would be the next of kin–somebody who is directly related to Russell. This was five years ago, so Billy was not legally allowed to act as next of kin to act on behalf of Russell. Luckily, Russell was able to make his own decisions as to his care, and his biological family, whom he was estranged from and had not spoken to in many years, was not involved.
After that experience, both Billy and Russell decided that they wanted to buy a house. Unfortunately, no bank would give either of them a loan big enough to cover the purchase price of the Victorian home of their dreams which they had chanced upon on one of their trips to San Francisco. If they pooled their income, any bank would have been happy to give them a loan, but the banks they approached did not view them as a married couple and were afraid to take the risk, so no loan. Flash forward to post-Marriage Equality Act. With both incomes pooled, banks are more than happy to give them housing loans and now they own two homes, a small condo in San Francisco and an oceanfront place in South Beach.
What other changes has the Marriage Equality Act brought about?
A lot of the benefits are economic. For example, married same-sex couples can now file joint federal and state tax returns and enjoy paying less in taxes. Spouses who qualify are able to access Social Security benefits.
Some benefits differ depending on whether an employer is federal, state or private. Private employers do not have to offer the same sorts of benefits as the government does. An example of this would be if one partner wants to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to help care for his or her spouse. Federal jobs guarantee this, but smaller private companies do not. Medical insurance benefits also depend on the employer as do other job benefits.
In other economic matters, if one spouse has to file for bankruptcy, the option exists for filing either a single or joint petition.
What about immigration status?
What if one partner is a U.S. citizen and the other is not?
A spouse can now be the legal sponsor of his or her spouse for immigration purposes. Rose and Linda have been a couple since they played together on the professional women’s tennis circuit. Now in their 40’s, this couple has retired from professional tennis and live in Florida. Until 2015, Rose could not legally work in the United States since she was from Sweden. Women’s professional tennis never had the large payouts that men’s professional tennis had, so the two were always stretched for cash. Once the Marriage Equality Act was enacted, Linda sponsored Rose, and while the wheels of justice move slowly and Rose has not yet become a U.S. citizen, she can now legally work, and their household income has more than doubled.
So now marital equality has been achieved. Does that mean that discrimination against same-sex couples is a thing of the past?
Unfortunately, no. Full equality under the law will still be a long way down the road, but same-sex couples now have legal footing to file discrimination cases when and if the need arises. The Marriage Equality Act was a big step forward towards civil rights for all United States citizens.