MONEY Benefits

Why Some Same-Sex Couples May Have to Marry Now

Same-sex wedding toppers on top of aspirin bottle
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (2)

With same-sex marriage legal in 35 states and D.C., a few employers are starting to roll back back health insurance and other benefits for domestic partners.

Until recently, same-sex couples could not legally marry. Now, some are finding they must wed if they want to keep their partner’s job-based health insurance and other benefits.

With same-sex marriage now legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia, some employers that formerly covered domestic partners say they will require marriage licenses for workers who want those perks.

“We’re bringing our benefits in line, making them consistent with what we do for everyone else,” said Ray McConville, a spokesman for Verizon, which notified non-union employees in July that domestic partners in states where same-sex marriage is legal must wed if they want to qualify for such benefits.

Employers making the changes say that since couples now have the legal right to marry, they no longer need to provide an alternative. Such rule changes could also apply to opposite-sex partners covered under domestic partner arrangements.

“The biggest question is: Will companies get rid of benefit programs for unmarried partners?” said Todd Solomon, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago.

It is legal for employers to set eligibility requirements for the benefits they offer workers and their families — although some states, such as California, bar employers from excluding same-sex partners from benefits. But some benefit consultants and advocacy groups say there are legal, financial and other reasons why couples may not want to marry.

Requiring marriage licenses is “a little bossy” and feels like “it’s not a voluntary choice at that point,” said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, an organization advocating for gay, lesbian and transgender people.

About two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner benefits, but only a minority is changing the rules to require tying the knot, said Deena Fidas, director of the workplace equality program at the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.

Because same-sex marriage isn’t legal in all states, “many employers operating in multiple states … are retaining their partner benefit structures,” said Fidas.

Most companies making the changes, including Verizon, are doing so only in those states where same-sex couples can get married. And most give workers some time to do it.

“We gave them a year and a quarter to get married,” said Jim Redmond, spokesman for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, which made the change for employees shortly after New York allowed same-sex unions.

Employers that offer domestic partner benefits — for both same-sex and opposite-sex partners — generally allow couples in committed relationships to qualify for health and other benefits upon providing documents, such as financial statements, wills, rental agreements or mortgages, proving they are responsible for each other financially.

Such benefits were particularly important before the federal health law barred insurers from rejecting people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“We had clients over the years who were living with HIV … the only health insurance they had, or had hope of getting was their partner’s, through a job,” said Daniel Bruner, director of legal services at the Whitman-Walker Health clinic in Washington D.C. “Now folks have more health insurance options.”

After the Supreme Court ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2013, the portion of the health insurance premium paid by employers on behalf of the same-sex spouse was no longer taxable under federal rules, although state taxes often applied where such marriages were not legal. When state marriage laws change, so do those tax rules.

In Arizona, Dena Sidmore and her wife, Cherilyn Walley are saving more than $300 a month in taxes on the health insurance from Walley’s state job, which covers them both. The savings came after the state’s same-sex marriage bar was thrown out by the courts in October.

They didn’t marry for benefits. They already had coverage under domestic partner requirements affecting Arizona state workers. They simply wanted to be married. Indeed, they tied the knot in September 2013, after driving all night to Santa Fe, N.M., where same-sex marriage was legal.

“It was lovely,” Sidmore said of the ceremony at the courthouse. But for her, the real change came when Arizona’s bar on same-sex marriage was overturned by the courts. She remembers thinking: “This is real. It’s not just a piece of paper.”

After the courts lifted the same-sex marriage ban, Arizona dropped its domestic partner program. State workers had until the end of last year to marry if they wanted to keep a partner on benefits.

Sidmore has no objection to employers requiring a marriage license for benefits because “spousal benefits require marriage,” although she thinks there should be exceptions for older residents who might face the loss of pensions or other financial complications if they remarry.

Benefit experts recommend that employers consider what it might mean for workers if benefits are linked to marital status — especially those that operate in states where same-sex marriage is not legal.

While some couples, like Sidmore and Walley, may be willing to travel to tie the knot, others may not want to, or may be unable to afford it. Additionally, some workers may fear if they marry, then move or get transferred to a state where same-sex marriage is barred, they would face discrimination.

Joe Incorvati, a managing director at KPMG in New Jersey, married his partner, Chuck, in 2013 when it became an option. “We’d been together for 38 years, so it just seemed natural,” he said.

KPMG offers domestic partner benefits and does not require employees to be married for eligibility. While he’s comfortable in New Jersey, Incorvati said it could be a problem if his company wanted to transfer him to a state where same sex marriage is not legal.

Even though his work benefits would remain the same, “Would I have the same rights as in New Jersey?” Incorvati asked. “The answer may be no.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit national health policy news service.

TIME Florida

After Miami’s Kickoff, Gays Marry Across Florida

john, Shel Goldstein
John and Shel Goldstein hug during the group wedding in Delray Beach, Fla., on Jan. 6, 2015 J Pat Carter—AP

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled that Florida's same-sex-marriage ban is unconstitutional

(KISSIMMEE, FLA.)— Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage ended statewide at the stroke of midnight Monday, and court clerks in some Florida counties wasted no time, issuing marriage licenses and performing weddings for same-sex couples overnight.

But they were beaten to the punch by a Miami judge who found no need to wait until the statewide ban expired. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel presided over Florida’s first legally recognized same-sex marriages Monday afternoon.

Still, most counties held off on official ceremonies until after midnight early Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle’s ruling that Florida’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional took effect in all 67 counties. Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, is still pursuing state and federal appeals seeking to uphold the ban voters approved in 2008, but her effort to block these weddings until the courts finally rule was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.

And now that same-sex marriage is a reality in Florida, Bondi’s spokeswoman told The Associated Press “the judge has ruled, and we wish these couples the best.”

The addition of Florida’s 19.9 million people means 70 percent of Americans now live in the 36 states where gay marriage is legal.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’re just so excited and so happy,” said Osceola County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb moments after she married Patti Daugherty, her partner of 22 years, at the Osceola County Courthouse in Kissimmee, just south of Orlando. Dressed in matching white pants and white embroidered shirts, the couple stood under a canopy of lace and ribbons as County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez officiated and U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., served as a witness. A countdown clock was placed in the front of the room, and supporters counted down to midnight 10 seconds before the clock struck 12.

“I’m hyped up at the moment,” said Grieb, whose marriage was the first in Osceola County and was followed by 27 others in the early morning hours.

Outside the courthouse, about 20 protesters held signs reading “God says male and female should be married” and “Sodom and Gomorrah,” but same-sex marriage supporters ignored them.

In Key West, at the southern tip of Florida, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, exchanged nuptials early Tuesday dressed in matching black tuxedos with blue vests, shortly after getting the first marriage license issued to a same-sex couple in the Florida Keys. Several hundred people attended the wedding staged on the steps of the Monroe County Courthouse.

During vows, Huntsman and Jones exchanged handmade silver rings, embraced and kissed. Afterward, Jones removed a large silver-toned bracelet that completely encircled his left wrist. He called it “my shackle of inequality.”

“I’m elated. Overjoyed that I am finally legally recognized with the man I have loved for 12 years now,” said Jones, whose marriage was followed by nine others in Monroe County overnight.

In Palm Beach County, celebrity financial adviser Suze Orman showed up at a mass wedding of 100 couples at a Delray Beach courthouse to support two friends getting married. Orman, who married her wife, Kathy Travis, a decade ago in South Africa, said she was happy same-sex couples were finally being recognized legally in Florida, where she lives part of the time.

“This is an investment in validity,” Orman said.

Broward Clerk Howard Forman also planned to officiate a mass wedding overnight at his county courthouse, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer planned to do the same at city hall later in the morning. Churches throughout the state were holding mass weddings for same-sex couples on Tuesday.

On Monday, gay and lesbian couples in Miami got a head-start when Zabel said she saw no reason why same-sex couples couldn’t immediately get their marriage licenses.

Then, she married two couples, Karla Arguello and Cathy Pareto and Todd and Jeff Delmay, in her chambers, packed with supporters and news media for the event.

“Finally, Florida recognizes us as a couple,” Pareto said. “It’s just — I don’t know, sweet justice.”

But while the news was largely met with cheers or even shrugs from Florida’s more liberal enclaves, signs of opposition were evident farther north, where more conservative Floridians live.

In Jacksonville, Duval County Court Clerk Ronnie Fussell shut down the courthouse chapel, saying no marriage ceremonies — gay or straight — would be allowed there. At least two other counties in northeast Florida did the same.

“The day is going to come very soon where America is going to wake up and say, ‘Whoa! Wait a second! I wanted two guys to live together. I didn’t want the fundamental transformation of society,'” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy council. He led the petition drive to put the gay marriage ban on the ballot back in 2008.

Republican Jeb Bush, who opposed gay marriage while serving as Florida’s governor and who now may seek the presidency, sought a middle ground Monday.

In a statement, he urged people to “show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”

___

Associated Press staffers J. Pat Carter in Delray Beach, Curt Anderson in Miami, Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Matt Sedensky in West Palm Beach and Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Pensacola contributed to this report.

TIME LGBT

Watch This Texas PSA For Gay Marriage

Texas police officers argue in favor of same-sex marriage

It’s a big week for same-sex marriage.

On Tuesday at midnight, same-sex marriages will begin for couples in Florida, and on Friday Jan. 9, oral arguments for cases that could allow same-sex marriages in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi are set to begin. In preparation, advocacy group Freedom to Marry has released a new TV ad in the Lone Star state which features a Fort Worth, Texas police officer named Chris Gorrie, who wants to eventually marry his partner, Justin.

Gorrie and his police colleagues explain why it’s important that Gorrie be allowed to marry, with one arguing: “Chris makes a sacrifice every day along with the rest of us.”

According to polling data, 48% of Texans support marriage for same sex couples.

TIME LGBT

Federal Judge Strikes Down Arizona’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Arizona is the latest state where gay marriage is legal following an earlier Supreme Court move

Arizona is now the latest state with legalized same-sex marriage after a federal judge on Friday struck down the state’s ban on the practice and ordered that his decision take effect immediately.

In a concise four-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick cited rulings from higher courts to dismiss Arizona’s ban as unconstitutional.

“It is clear that an appeal to the Ninth Circuit would not succeed,” Sedwick wrote, referring to the higher court that has jurisdiction over a potential appeal in the case. The judge added that the United States Supreme Court has suggested that it would not hear an appeal in the Arizona case.

Arizona is the latest in a slew of states where same-sex marriage was effectively legalized after the Supreme Court earlier this month declined to hear cases addressing the issue. The court’s move effectively brought the total number of states with same-sex marriage to 30, while paving the way for legalization in other states as well.

TIME Ukraine

Crimea’s Gay Community Moves Out as Russian Homophobia Sets In

Yegor Guskov and Bogdan Zinchenko, who owned a gay bar in Sevastopol, feared for their business — and their family

The Qbar was always an awkward fit in the nightlife of Sevastopol. It was the only place in the Ukrainian city to host the occasional drag show, and certainly the only place where the all-male waitstaff wore booty shorts beneath their aprons. In other parts of Europe, and even many cities in mainland Ukraine, the camp décor would have raised few eyebrows. But Sevastopol is a macho place. It houses the Russian Black Sea naval fleet, and its streets are studded with the homes and memorials of veterans from Russian wars going back to the 18th century. So even before Russia decided in March of this year to annex the city from Ukraine along with the rest of the Crimean peninsula, the locals, both Russian and Ukrainian, looked at the Qbar with a bit of suspicion.

“For a long time they were afraid,” says Yegor Guskov, who ran the bar along with his partner, Bogdan Zinchenko, since it opened in 2007. Mostly out of a fear of the unfamiliar, the Ukrainian officials who worked next door at City Hall were “worried at first that someone would fondle them if they came inside,” he says. “But then they realized it was safe, and the food is really good. So they started coming to eat.” By day the bar would be full of dowdy bureaucrats on their lunch breaks; by night it was packed with lithe young men and women taking Sambuca shots and dancing to Britney Spears. It filled a niche, and business prospered.

But like a lot of things about life in Sevastopol, all of that changed after the Russian annexation. In response to this year’s pro-Western revolution in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to occupy the region of Crimea, many of them fanning out from the Russian naval base in Sevastopol. The invasion quickly helped install a new set of leaders in the region, who organized a slipshod referendum to call for Crimea to secede from Ukraine. When the vote passed with an overwhelming majority – most of Crimea’s residents are ethnic Russians – Putin signed a decree absorbing the peninsula into the Russian Federation. Its two million citizens thus found themselves living under Russian law.

For the gay community in Crimea, the most worrying piece of legislation was the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda,” which Putin signed in 2012. Although the law is billed as an effort to protect Russian children from learning about “non-traditional sexual relationships,” its critics say the law encourages homophobia, signaling to Russians that gays are somehow inferior and should not be allowed to insist on their equality in public.

Since March, the new leaders of Crimea have embraced these principles with gusto. The head of the regional government, Sergei Aksyonov, said that the West’s liberal attitude toward gay rights would be “intolerable and unacceptable” on his peninsula during a meeting with his ministers last month. “In Crimea we don’t welcome such people, we don’t need them,” he said, referring to homosexuals. If they ever try to stage a pride parade or any other public events, Aksyonov warned that the local police and paramilitary forces would “take three minutes to clarify what [sexual] orientation is right.”

That sort of discrimination began to hit home for the Qbar in April, after Moscow appointed a retired officer of the Black Sea fleet to serve as the acting head of Sevastopol. Through their patrons from City Hall, the bar’s owners learned that “someone had whispered to the new leadership that they have a gay bar sitting right underneath them,” says Guskov. A series of fire and tax inspections followed, hitting the bar with fines and official reprimands that made its managers understand they weren’t welcome anymore.

At first they tried some cosmetic remedies. They removed the Ukrainian-language sign from their door and made the waiters put on trousers instead of their trademark denim shorts. They even took the letter Q out of the name of the bar, Guskov says, because the local officials said it looked like a symbol for sodomy. “We changed the format,” he says. “We tried to make it into a normal eatery.”

But none of that made them feel safe in the city they call home. Not only are the pair among the most open of Sevastopol’s chronically closeted gays, but Guskov and Zinchenko have a two-year-old son, Timur, from a surrogate mother. The chance that some technocrat could question their custody of Timur, plus their desire to have more children, convinced them that it was time to leave Crimea behind.

In August, they joined the quiet stream of émigrés – thousands of them, even by conservative estimates – who have left the peninsula and moved to mainland Ukraine since the annexation. The largest groups have been from Crimea’s ethnic minorities, primarily Muslim Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, who have both raised alarms over repression and discrimination since their towns and cities became a part of Russia. But the region’s gay men and women have also been moving away, as much out of protest at the annexation as out of a fear of becoming the targets of a state-backed campaign of homophobia.

Guskov believes that campaign won’t be long in coming. “When it became clear that Russia needs to prepare for isolation from Europe, it needed to smear the Europeans somehow, and the simplest is to spread this idea of perverted, decadent Gayropeans,” he says, using the derogatory term for Europeans—”Gayropeytsy”—that has entered the Russian vernacular. “So this witch hunt at home is needed as a tool to smear opponents abroad,” he says.

In Crimea, adds Zinchenko, the warning signs are easy to see. If elderly neighbors were happy before to coddle Timur and offer his parents advice on how to raise him, now the Soviet tradition of the “donos” – denouncing an acquaintance to the police – has started to return, he says. “People are writing these accusations against their neighbors just to show how patriotic they are, how loyal,” he says. “These are all signals for us. They show that we can become a target.”

That suspicion is what forced Guskov and Zinchenko to give up their business in Sevastopol, pack up their things and moved to Kiev. Along the way, the New York City-based photographer Misha Friedman joined them to document their journey, which he felt was emblematic of the transformation that Crimea, and the rest of Ukraine, have undergone since the annexation. “They just struck me as a normal happy family,” the photographer says. “They just got caught up in the politics of bigotry.” As they make their new home in the capital, they’re thinking of opening up a new Qbar, which will have to deal with a lot more competition in Kiev’s vibrant gay scene. But this seems like a minor worry compared to the risks they faced in the new Sevastopol.

Read next: What the Vatican Really Said About Homosexuality

TIME LGBT

Colorado Allows Clerks to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Same sex marriage licenses issued
Jason Woodrich (L) and Ben Hauth share a kiss after signing their marriage license at the Denver County clerk's office where they began issuing same sex marriage licenses July 10, 2014. John Leyba—Denver Post / Getty Images

County clerks who defied a state-wide ban cleared the last legal hurdle to issuing licenses

Colorado county clerks were free to issue same-sex marriage licenses on Tuesday shortly after Colorado’s Supreme Court lifted an injunction against the practice.

The Denver Post reports that three clerks challenged a state-wide ban on gay marriage in June, issuing roughly 350 same-sex marriage licenses despite cease and desist orders from the state’s Attorney General. A Colorado court placed an injunction against the clerks until their case had received a final ruling in the courts. That final decision came Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear all appeals on same-sex marriage cases, deferring to a lower court’s decision that Colorado’s clerks could rightfully defy the ban.

The removal of the injunction on Tuesday was the last legal hurdle for the clerks, several of whom jumped ahead of the decision and issued licenses as early as Monday afternoon.

[Denver Post]

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Passes on Gay Marriage Debate for Now

Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States Phil Roeder—Getty Images

The top court could still decide to hear one of the seven gay marriage cases pending before it.

The Supreme Court skipped an early opportunity to wade back into the national debate on gay marriage Thursday.

The nation’s top court did not include the seven different pending cases regarding same-sex marriage on a list of arguments it has agreed to hear that was released Thursday, ahead of the beginning of a new term on Monday, USA Today reports.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Supreme Court won’t weigh in on the cases this term. The court often holds off on deciding whether to hear high-profile cases until later in its term.

The cases in question revolve around gay marriage bans in five states: Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin. The Supreme Court last year ruled that the federal government could not deny benefits to same-sex couples but did not take a position on whether states are constitutionally allowed to ban same-sex marriage.

According to USA Today, 31 states currently have marriage bans in place. But since last year’s Supreme Court ruling, judges in more than a dozen of those states have overturned the bans, leaving them in place pending appeals.

[USA Today]

TIME LGBT

Federal Judge Upholds Louisiana’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Ruling ends a string of decisions in favor of same-sex marriage after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act

A federal judge in Louisiana ruled in favor of the state’s same-sex marriage ban Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said in his ruling that the plaintiffs failed to show the state’s ban violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law and a right to due process. He also held that Louisiana has the authority to set its own definition of marriage.

The plaintiffs in the case included same-sex couples who were married in states outside Louisiana and want their marriage to be recognized there, an unmarried couple who wanted to tie the knot in Louisiana and the advocacy group Forum for Equality Louisiana. That latter group plans to appeal Feldman’s decision, USA Today reports.

Feldman’s decision breaks a pattern of judges ruling in favor of same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, a 2013 ruling in which part of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down. Over 20 cases involving same-sex marriage have been decided in federal courts since the highest court’s decision in Windsor.

[USA Today]

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Puts Hold on Virginia Same-Sex Marriages

Supreme Court Blocks Virginia Gay Marriages
A guard stands on the steps of the Supreme Court Building, August 20, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Same-sex marriages could have begun as early as Thursday

The Supreme Court effectively barred same-sex couples from marrying in Virginia Wednesday after it delayed a lower court decision that would have lifted the state’s gay marriage ban. The appeals court ruling demanded that Virginia recognize out of state same-sex marriages and would have allowed same sex-couples to marry as early as Thursday morning.

Same-sex couples in Virginia must now wait until the Supreme Court decides to either decline to hear the appeal, under which the stay would be waived, or to reach a verdict of its own.

The Supreme Court did not provide an explanation for the order, which was requested by a Virginia court clerk, but it didn’t come as a surprise after it put same sex-unions on hold in Utah earlier this year.

The top plaintiff in the case, Tim Bostic, told USA Today that he preferred to hear a verdict from the Supreme Court.

“While we are disappointed that marriages will have to wait, this was not unexpected,” he said. “We feel that this case deserves to be heard by the Supreme Court and be finally decided for all Americans.”

Virginia voted in 2006 to ban gay marriage, but both of Virginia’s Democratic senators—Tim Kaine and Mark Warner—endorsed the practice last year.

 

MONEY Taxes

WATCH: One Year After DOMA Ruling, What’s Changed For Same-Sex Couples?

One year after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples are still fighting for marriage equality.

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