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On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. According to the Wall Street Journal “The Supreme Court dramatically advanced the struggle for gay rights Wednesday, ending the federal government’s discrimination against same-sex spouses and authorizing the resumption of gay marriages in the nation’s largest state.” (California)

Thirteen states recognize gay marriage with more states contemplating legislation or citizen initiatives that would sanction gay marriage. Individuals with valid marriages in those states will now have access to the federal benefits of marriage.

Why is this important to the aging community and elder law? The Defense of Marriage Act impacted more than 1,000 federal laws that affect married couples including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, military and federal retirement benefits, veterans benefits, and estate and gift tax laws. Individuals with legal marriages from states that recognize gay marriage will have a right to take advantage of Social Security benefits, Veterans Benefits, the marriage preference in estate and gift tax laws, and even the spousal impoverishment and spousal transfer rules within the Medicaid long term care system. This is particularly important for those who have spent decades building lives as married couples and whose assets and income are joint, in the same way married couples have built their assets.

The original case involved Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer, who got married in 2007.  Upon Ms. Spyer’s death in 2009, Ms. Windsor inherited her property, but since they were not accepted as a married couple in the US, the inheritance was taxed $360,000.  Ms. Windsor sued and in 2012 the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York agreed with her.  The new Supreme Court ruling confirms that ruling.

Does this motivate gay and lesbian couples to pursue marriage rights in our state? How would you be affected by the benefits issue?  Let me hear from you.