President Obama's vocal support of marriage equality and the Obama Administration's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that bans the recognition of same-sex marriage, have been major victories for the LGBT community.
As we reflect on these victories during LGBT Pride Month, we must remind ourselves to do more to ensure same-sex couples also have the right to retire with dignity.
Here's how the inability to have one's relationship recognized by their state, as constituted by DOMA, can affect a same-sex couple's retirement and healthcare options:
- Social Security: valuable spousal and survivor benefits aren't extended to LGBT couples, and won't be unless DOMA is repealed.
- Medicare: A heterosexual retiree can enroll in this program without paying a premium if a spouse meets eligibility requirements. But DOMA means that a legally married same-sex spouse lacking those requirements must take the other route into Medicare - buying into the system by paying a hefty Medicare Part A premium out of pocket.
- Estate Taxes: Under federal law, heterosexual couples can grant unlimited sums to surviving spouses. But same-sex couples are subject to the 55 percent federal estate tax on inheritances over $5 million - a ceiling that is scheduled to drop to $1 million in 2013.
Fortunately, views and laws concerning same sex couples are changing. A provision of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 makes it possible for a workplace retirement saver to name a non-spouse beneficiary. Legal challenges related to DOMA and same-sex marriage are making their way toward the Supreme Court. And the workplace is changing quickly as companies reshape their benefit programs to ensure equality to the extent the law permits.
SEIU stands in solidarity with our LGBT members and allies who make this nation great. Stay informed and research the rapidly evolving laws impacting the LGBT community in your state. Let's work together to fight against discrimination and find ways to deliver retirement security to more people.