WASHINGTON — Same-sex couples who celebrated last month when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act are waking up to a disorienting legal hangover as they try to assess the ruling’s effect on their personal finances.
Almost a month after the court’s June 26 decision, financial advisers and lawyers say it remains unclear how more than 1,100 federal laws tied to marital status — including about 200 separate tax code provisions — will apply to same-sex married couples who live in certain kinds of legal limbo. Some, for example, were wed in a state that recognizes their union but live in another state that does not. Others live in a state that allows only civil unions or domestic partnerships.
The lack of clarity extends beyond taxes to Social Security benefits, wills, insurance, bankruptcy law, divorce and retirement planning.
Mark Maxwell said his euphoria over the historic ruling has been tempered by his uncertainty about how the demise of DOMA will affect his family’s financial security.
“Unfortunately we are living in a state at this point where we are still second-class citizens,” said Maxwell, who lives in Winston-Salem, N.C., where a constitutional amendment bans gay marriage.
He and his husband, Timothy Young-Maxwell, were married in the District of Columbia, which allows same-sex marriage, but live in North Carolina, which does not. They have four sons.
“If there’s a fear that we feel, it is simply the unknown of the policies that are out there,” Maxwell said. “Right now the biggest thing at our ages — Tim is 50 this year and I’m 45 — is looking at things like survivor benefits. What happens if something happens to either one of us? What happens from the standpoint of our children? How does that impact our family? Will they be able to get benefits? Those are the kind of things I’m really thinking about.”
Now that the court has ruled, the confusion hinges on whether government agencies will use a “place of celebration” or a “state of residence” rule to determine which federal protections, programs and responsibilities apply to same-sex couples.