Press

Denial of Marriage Rights Costs Massachusetts Couples Thousands of Dollars Per Year, Report Finds

Date: 
April 05, 2004

Disparities in Wide Range of Areas Including Income Tax, Survivor Benefits, and Estate Taxes

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BOSTON, April 5, 2004 - As millions of married couples are signing and sending off their tax returns prior to the April 15 tax day deadline, a groundbreaking report released today by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute reveals that same-sex couples face widespread economic disparities and hardships because they are denied equal marriage rights. The report takes situations commonly faced by Massachusetts couples and compares the economic benefits afforded to married couples to those available to same-sex couples. Two same-sex couples residing in Massachusetts are profiled to show the real-life costs to them and their children of not being able to marry.

Entitled Economic Benefits of Marriage under Federal and Massachusetts Law, the study is the first comprehensive analysis of the disparities gay couples face in federal and state income tax, Social Security benefits, gift tax, estate tax, worker's compensation, and line of duty death benefits. It was authored by Terence R. Dougherty, an attorney with Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP. It is the first of five economic studies to be produced by the Task Force Policy Institute analyzing states that are at the epicenter of the national dialogue concerning equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

"Same-sex couples pay more in taxes and get fewer protections and benefits in return," said Matt Foreman, the Task Force's executive director. "These injustices aren't hypothetical - instead, they are being inflicted right now on hard-working, tax paying Massachusetts couples, often at times of family tragedy and loss. This report quantifies the cost to two Massachusetts gay and lesbian families."

"We're going to use these hard data to convince our state legislators not only that the economic impact of denying gay and lesbian couples equal marriage rights is real, but that civil unions are no substitute for full equality," said Sue Hyde, a Cambridge parent and the Task Force's New England field organizer. Hyde noted that information from the report will be used to educate members of the Massachusetts legislature during the coming year as part of a comprehensive effort to kill a proposed amendment to the state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriages. (The legislature approved the measure by a five vote margin on March 29, but it needs to be approved by the legislature again in 2005 before it is placed on the ballot in 2006).

One of the couples profiled in the report, Donna Triggs and Donna Moore, both 54, pay $2,177 (13%) more in each year in state and federal income taxes than a married couple earning the same amount because they cannot file a joint return. The analysis also finds that if Ms. Triggs died as a result of an injury at work, her spouse would receive $884 per week ($45,968 per year, up to a maximum of $207,722) in workers' compensation benefits. Because Ms. Triggs and Ms. Moore cannot now marry, however, Ms. Moore would receive zero workers' compensation benefits.

"Why should we have to pay more in taxes while being cut out of the social safety net programs we've been paying into our entire lives," asked Hyde. "As Massachusetts residents, all we want and what we deserve is equal treatment."

Another couple profiled in the report is Thorsten Behrens and Christopher Schiebel, who are raising Christopher's two children from a previous marriage. Thorsten is the main breadwinner, and Christopher earns significantly less than Thorsten. If Thorsten died after the two were allowed to legally marry, Christopher's Social Security benefit would be $1,533 per month ($18,396 per year). Because they cannot marry, however, Christopher's Social Security benefit would be only $303 per month ($3,636 per year), a disparity of $1,230 per month ($14,760 per year). Likewise, upon retirement, Thorsten and Christopher's combined monthly Social Security retirement benefit would be 25% higher ($461 more per month, $5,532 more per year) if they were legally married. (Some of the charts showing these disparities appear at the end of this release.)

The report underscores that creating civil unions for same-sex couples, which is being advocated by the leadership of the Massachusetts legislature, falls far short of providing benefits equal to those enjoyed by married couples.

"Because so many important financial rights and responsibilities - like federal income tax and Social Security benefits - are federal protections based on marital status, civil unions do not and cannot provide anything remotely resembling what comes with marriage," said Sean Cahill, Ph.D., director of the Task Force Policy Institute. "There are 1,138 federal protections associated with marriage, but civil unions will not give gay couples access to a single one."

Given the passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which allows the federal government to withhold recognition from same-sex marriages performed in any state, in the short run same-sex marriages in Massachusetts will not be recognized by federal bureaucracies. However, many believe DOMA to be unconstitutional, and it is possible that in the future DOMA will be struck down or repealed. It is also possible that a President and Congress more supportive of equal rights for gay and lesbian people will afford these federal protections to married same-sex couples. "While married gay couples in Massachusetts may not be able to immediately access those federal protections," Cahill said, "if they are allowed to marry they have the potential to access these protections in the future. However, if same-sex couples are only allowed to form civil unions, under the current legal framework they will not be able to access any federal benefits or protections."

The report was authored by Terence R. Dougherty, an attorney with Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP, a prestigious 168-lawyer firm based in New York City. The firm was ranked #1 in the nation for the pro bono contributions of lawyers in 2002.

To download a free copy of the full report, log on to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force publications library at http://www.TheTaskForce.org/library

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.