Although the Defense of Marriage Act was invalidated by the Supreme Court, same-sex couples in Maryland and other locations may still be struggling to figure out what rights they have. While the case dealt with estate administration, same-sex spouses have received additional federal benefits because of the ruling. However, information about the benefits that are available to these individuals is often confusing and contradictory.
Some states recognize same-sex marriage but do not provide the same benefits to these couples as they provide to heterosexual couples. The prohibition of DOMA means that same-sex spouses are subject to all of the federal tax provisions that relate to marriage, such as those of Individual Retirement Accounts. Specifically, an employee may fund a spousal IRA for an unemployed spouse up to $5,500 a year for individuals under 50 or $6,500 for individuals 50 or older. Some states mandate that spouses inherit IRAs automatically.
Federal pension laws mandate that spouses be the primary beneficiaries of 401(k) accounts. This same law applies to 403(b), 457, profit-sharing and defined benefit retirement plans. Just like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples can also eliminate federal taxes on their estates or gifts as long as gifts or estates do not exceed a certain value. Whether same-sex couples will receive Social Security or Veterans benefits is expected to become clearer over time.
Due to the momentous Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor, which led to the decision that marriage was a civil right and not a privilege, the rights of same-sex couples are gaining recognition. Because laws may not be adapting as quickly as advances are being made, same-sex couples might encounter unexpected legal difficulties when they attempt to claim what they believe is rightfully theirs while residing in a state that does not recognize their union. For this reason, they might choose to seek legal aid.