Same-sex couples in Massachusetts face a vast economic disadvantage compared with their straight counterparts because they cannot legally marry, according to a study released Monday by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.
"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 hardworking, taxpaying Massachusetts couples, often at times of family tragedy and loss."
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, workers' compensation, and line-of-duty death benefits. Massachusetts will start the process of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on May 17.
One of the couples profiled in the report, Donna Triggs and Donna Moore, both 54, pay $2,177 (13%) more 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 nothing in 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."
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, 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 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, the group believes DOMA is unconstitutional, and it could 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."