Act Two: After the Defense of Marriage Act

Gold Wedding Rings


Establishing the Next Steps

Recently the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage  Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. This immediately impacted the 13 states that recognize gay marriage.  According to the Wall Street Journal (June 26, 2013) the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, estimates that there are approximately 650,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. today — including 114,100 legally married and 108,600 in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships. A representative of the Williams Institute expects that 114,100 additional couples will be eligible for the full-range of Social Security benefits.

Same sex-marriages are legal in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland,  Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and Washington, DC. These legally married same-sex couples can immediately include Social Security benefits into their personal finance and retirement planning.   Minnesota and Rhode Island will join this list as of August 1, 2013. The Social Security Administration (SSA) located at www. encourages legally married same-sex couples who think they might be eligible for benefits to immediately apply. Applying now will preserve the filing date, which will be used to determine potential benefits.  According to the SSA they will quickly process claims once they have finalized instructions for their personnel.

Bankrate (July 2013) states that the Social Security retirement benefits for eligible same-sex couples are tremendous. For every $100 dollars of retirement benefits a same-sex couple was denied required saving $24,000 or more to be in the same position at retirement.  (Assuming the $24,000 is a lump sum needed to generate $100 monthly income, with a withdrawal rate of 5 percent.)

Geography Becomes Important

According to the New York Times (July 9, 2013) some government agencies will recognize a legal same-sex marriage only in the state where the couple currently lives (place of domicile/residence). Other states to determine if the same-sex marriage is valid will look to the state where the couple filed their most recent tax return, where they lived when they applied for benefits, or where they were wed.

The New York Times (July 9, 2013) goes on to state that many government entities, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security are still  determining how to apply the ruling to legally married same-sex couples. The Justice Department has assembled a special task force to assist.

It is unknown if two men legally married in Maryland but living in Florida, which bans gay marriage, can qualify to receive Social Security spousal benefits. Freedom to Marry has a Web site located at that provides a full breakdown of where state laws stand on same-sex relationships.

Geography could also play a role in divorce. For example, in Pennsylvania an out-of-state same-sex marriage will not be recognized. If the same-sex couple wants to divorce they can’t divorce in Pennsylvania.  However, if the same-sex couple moves to the nearby New Jersey suburbs, the union would be recognized as a civil union. If the same-sex couple moved to Delaware they would have full marriage rights (Bloomberg, June 27, 2012).

There are many more issues that the new ruling will bring forward. For example, will benefits be retroactive? Will Social Security run out of money sooner? For more information about how the DOMA ruling may affect you please contact:

About ksindell

Kathleen Sindell, Ph.D. is the author of numerous academic, popular, and professional finance articles, Web sites, proposals, and books. This includes the bestselling reference book, "Investing Online for Dummies, Eds 1-5" (listed for two consecutive years on the Wall Street Journal's Bestselling Business Book List). Her most recent book "Social Security: Maximize your Benefits" has been listed in Amazon's Top 100 Bestselling Retirement Planning Books. It is important to note that "Social Security: Maximize Your Benefits, 2nd Edition" was just released. Sindell has an in-depth understanding of the financial services industry and has held Series 7, 63, and 65 licenses. Dr. Sindell is regularly tapped as a financial services expert on ABC World News, The Nightly Business Report, and at popular online and print outlets. Kathleen Sindell, Ph.D. is a member of the Board of Directors for the Financial Planning Association, National Capital Area (FPA NCA), is on the Editorial Advisory Panel of the Journal of Financial Planning, and is Co-Chair of the Metro Washington Financial Planning Day. Sindell is a Course Chair II, CFP Program Academic Officer, and adjunct full-professor at the University of Maryland, UMUC, School of Undergraduate Studies. Contact Information: or 703-299-1700
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