We're very pleased to present the seventh in a series of articles about legal resources for same-sex couples. Our goal is to make sure that your gay or lesbian family is protected, both as you plan your gay wedding and continue your lives together. The article below was written by Claire Bartholome, who in addition to being an estate planning attorney, is also a client of 14 Stories.
Recognition of marriage confers hundreds of benefits applying not only to spouses, but to family and next of kin as well. With those rights, however, come responsibilities, and while we celebrate gains in equality no matter the consequences, same-sex couples should understand what true marriage “recognition” will mean for them. Over the next few weeks I will be discussing the mixed consequences of marital recognition for same-sex couples.
This week: rights to health insurance benefits. While married individuals are now entitled to extend employer-based health benefits to same-sex spouses in Massachusetts, it may not always be in the couple’s best interest.
Generally, employer-based health insurance, even if it requires the employee to contribute to the cost of premiums, provides a significant tax savings since the employee’s portion is purchased with pre-tax dollars. Federal law, however, considers the amount spent on providing health insurance coverage to a same-sex spouse is taxable income, so same-sex couples often owe more in taxes than their opposite-sex counterparts.
There is one exception to the general rule of federal taxation. If a same-sex spouse qualifies as a “dependent” under IRS rules without regard to his or her status as a spouse, the value of the benefit to the “dependent” is not taxed as wages to the employee. Also, in states that recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, there is no state income tax on the value of spousal health insurance benefits.
Some same-sex couples actually pay less overall by maintaining separate health insurance coverage either through employers or by purchasing individual plans. In Massachusetts, individuals can compare the cost and coverage of health insurance plans online at www.mahealthconnector.org.
LGBT Families must also consider how to cover dependent children. If parents maintain two separate health insurance plans, they must research the impact of adding children to either plan. Note also that if the children were not born to one of the spouses during the marriage or if only one spouse is the children’s legal parent, the non-parent spouse will not be able to add the children to her health insurance plan.
If same-sex couples receive benefits through an employer-sponsored domestic partnership plan, specifically for unmarried couples, then marriage may disqualify an individual from benefits. Same-sex couples should check in advance with employers to ensure that they are covered one way or another.
Being treated as a married couple for the purposes of obtaining health insurance is tempered by continued discrimination on the part of the federal government and some employers. These challenges, however, will continue to be a part of the fight for equality … for better or for worse.
Claire Bartholome is an Attorney with the Law Office of William J. Brisk. Her practice specializes in estate planning for same-sex couples in order to combat discrimination, legal challenges, and prejudice. This information is not intended to provide legal advice. For information as to how the laws apply to your specific situation, consult an attorney. www.briskelderlaw.com
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