Last week, a gay marriage bill was signed into law in New York. It goes into effect in 30 days. After that, gay couples can marry in the state, just like everyone else. Hurray! It has been a long wait for this blogger.
In practical terms, what this means is, married gay couples will be able to automatically inherit from each other under state law, can file joint state tax returns, and be considered next of kin when there is a medical emergency.
So, all is well and good in the gay New Yorker's world now, right? Far from it. While NY passing a gay marriage bill is monumental and historic, gay married New Yorkers still will not have equal rights under the law.
The reason for this is that gay married New Yorkers will still not receive the over 1,000 federal benefits that straight married couples receive.
Some of these federal benefits include:
1) the ability for a surviving spouse to receive social security survivor benefits
2) the ability to file joint federal tax returns
3) the ability to take advantage of federal estate and gift tax exemptions afforded a heterosexual surviving spouse.
In addition, unlike heterosexual spouses of deceased veterans, homosexual spouses will not be afforded health care, death pensions, educational assistance, home loan guarantees, and bereavement counseling. Gay spouses of living military personnel are not afforded any benefits given to heterosexual spouses of living military personnel, including health care, family relocation assistance and family separation pay.
Also, gay spouses of federal workers are still not permitted to receive health insurance or retirement plan benefits of a deceased federal employee.
The issue that concerns this blogger the most is the social security survivor benefits. Consider this scenario: A young gay couple gets married in NY this year. Both are about 30 years old. They have children. One spouse stays home to raise them, and the other works out of the home for 35 years, paying into the social security system. At age 67, that spouse dies. The surviving spouse will not be entitled to even one cent of her deceased spouse's social security. Instead, the government gets to keep it. Is that fair?
President Obama has waffled on the gay marriage issue. Before he was elected, he was all for civil unions for gay couples under federal law. Now, he says gay marriage is an issue to be decided by the states. Basically, this means he doesn't give a crap about gay couples having any federal benefits. He cares more about not rocking the boat for the 2012 election. And that sucks.
I am very grateful for what the NY legislature has done. It is proof we have come a long way as a society. But apparently, the fight is not over, and we have a long way to go. It's ok, though, we're prepared.