The Supreme Court has found the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional in all states where the state allows same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples now have equal rights to those of opposite-sex marriages including
- File joint tax returns as their marriage is not recognized for this purpose. This may result in larger tax bills for same sex couples compared to a marriage of a man and woman which enjoys the right to file Married Jointly. Under DOMA same-sex couples did not have the option.
- Take advantage of unlimited asset transfers between spouses. Section 1041 of the internal revenue code allows married couples to transfer an unlimited amount of assets back and forth during marriage and as part of a marital dissolution proceeding. A same sex couple did not have the same rights under DOMA and instead was often required to make other plans for tax efficiently passing assets via complicated and costly estate planning and trusts. Property settlements upon the dissolution of an opposite-sex marriage would not trigger income taxes. However, under DOMA a property settlement in the divorce of same-sex couples resulted in appreciated assets being deemed to have been sold for the value of the obligation being extinguished (the property settlement). This could trigger a gain or loss for tax purposes and have possible tax implications.
- Collect Social Security benefits on their spouses record. Under DOMA Same sex couples did not have the right to spousal or survivor benefits under the Social Security system. This kept a same sex couple from adopting a family model with a stay at home parent and had major negative consequences if a major bread-winner passes away.
- Have a spouse covered under an employer provided benefit program such as medical insurance. Under DOMA a same-sex couple was not afforded the same rights to cover their spouse on employer provided medical and other benefits. The resulting accommodation had become some corporations adopting eligibility requirements allowing a same sex couple to have coverage but DOMA made the benefit a taxable income to the employee when a man and woman couple would avoid such taxation.
- Deduct alimony payments to their spouse on a tax return. Under DOMA alimony payable from a member of a same sex couple to their spouse is not tax deductible as it would be when payments are made between a man and woman couple. This arrangement generally had the effect of transferring income between ex-spouses tax efficiently by reducing income of the taxpayer in the higher marginal tax bracket and transferring it to the ex-spouse in the lower marginal tax bracket. Under DOMA alimony payments from same-sex divorces are not deductible for federal income tax purposes and may in fact be considered a gift, further reducing the lifetime limit or even triggering taxable gifts.
The Supreme Court has found the Proposition 8 supporters in California lack standing for appealing the voter decision making same-sex marriage legal in California and remanded the case to a lower court. Ultimately this means same-sex marriage in California will resume.
The combination of Defense of Marriage Act strike down and Proposition 8 decision means same-sex couples in California will have the same rights under the law as their opposite-sex counterparts.