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The Rights That Accompany Marriage Equality

October 24, 2015

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. In New York, same-sex couples were granted the freedom to marry in 2011. It’s important to know what rights were granted under the Marriage Equality Act—especially now that marriage equality is the law of the land.

Q: What are the benefits received from same-sex marriage?

A: State-based marriage rights in New York include:

  1. State tax benefits: Married same-sex couples will now be able to file joint state tax returns, take spousal deductions on state income taxes, exclude employer contributions for spousal health insurance from taxable income for state taxes, exempt property inherited from spouses from state estate tax, and receive tax benefits when transferring interests in property
  2. Insurance benefits: State and municipal employees are entitled to benefits for their same-sex spouses. However, many private employees offer ‘self-funded’ health insurance that is not affected by the Marriage Equality Act. It’s best to consult your insurance plan’s definition of spousal benefit coverage.
  3. Health care and family leave: Spouses enjoy special rights to make decisions related to emergency medical care for each other and to visit a spouse who is ill. Working spouses will also be entitled to family medical leave and bereavement leave.
  4. Inheritance, property ownership, and transfer rights: Beyond inheritance protections in probate court proceedings, many laws make it easier for spouses to transfer or jointly own property.
  5. Parental rights: Both spouses will be listed as parents where a child is born to two married women. This does not apply to children born to a couple before they are married. Married men having a child through a surrogate will still need to follow a more complicated set of procedures which they should consult with an attorney about. Due to inadequate protections in other states or countries that do not recognize valid marriages of same-sex couples, it is highly advised by organizations such New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) for couples to obtain second-parent adoptions by the non-biological parent, even if both spouses are listed as parents on a birth certificate. A court-ordered adoption ensures legal respect for both spouses’ parental status by other jurisdictions that may not recognize marriages of same-sex couples. Consult an attorney for further advice.
  6. Workers’ compensation and wrongful death claims: Spouses may receive workers’ compensation benefits if a spouse dies in the workplace, and they may bring a wrongful death lawsuit and related civil claims that are dependent on marital status.
  7. Cemetery plots: Same-sex spouses have the same rights as different-sex spouses to possession, care, control, and succession to ownership of, and right of interment in, a public cemetery plot.
  8. Spousal privilege: In legal proceedings, discussions between spouses are protected from disclosure in court by asserting spousal privilege.
  9. Family law: Spouses may utilize state and local judicial forums in proceedings relating to separation, divorce, orders of protection, and the care of any children of the couple.

Federal marriage benefits:

  1. Taxes: Spouses are able to file joint federal tax returns, take advantage of the marital exemption to gift taxes, and take the marital deduction on a taxable estate.
  2. Immigration: A spouse may sponsor his or her spouse for immigration purposes.
  3. Bankruptcy: Spouses have the option of filing a joint petition for bankruptcy.
  4. Social Security Benefits: Spouses who qualify have access to Social Security spousal benefits.
  5. Military Benefits: A spouse of a service member is entitled to a number of benefits, including insurance, housing allowance, visas and access to legal assistance.

Our Matrimonial department can assist you with any questions or concerns you may have. If you wish to speak to an attorney, please contact HoganWillig at 716-636-7600. HoganWillig is located at 2410 North Forest Road in Amherst, New York 14068, with additional offices conveniently located in Buffalo, Lancaster, and Lockport.