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Lawyer Referral and Information Service - A Public Service of the Bar Association of San Francisco: Same Sex Marriage Post Supreme Court Rulings on June 26, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Post Supreme Court Rulings on June 26, 2013

Lawyer Referral & Information Service, Q & A Corner

On June 26, 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage to be that between a man and a woman only, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also ruled that the proponents of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, lacked standing to have appealed the injunction against enforcement of Prop 8 to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  On June 28, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction that allowed Prop 8 to stand, allowing same-sex marriage to become legal in California. In San Francisco, over 500 same-sex marriage licenses were issued within 48 hours of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.   

With respect to how the Supreme Court ruling in DOMA may affect you, it is advised that you consult an attorney regarding your particular situation.  The Lawyer Referral and Information Service has attorneys experienced in the legal areas that are particularly relevant to same-sex couples and families: child custody, child support, adoption, immigration, state and federal income tax, heath care benefits, wills and estate planning issues. Below is some general information from our Q&A Corner that we hope will be helpful to you!

Federal Income Taxes

Q: We are now a legally married same-sex couple or were legally married in California in 2008. Do we have to stop claiming single status and start filing taxes as married now?

A: If you are a legally married same-sex couple, you can no longer claim to be single when filing federal taxes for 2013. You must start filing taxes as married filing jointly or married filing separately.

Q: I never fully understood the income-splitting rule that the IRS enforced on same-sex couples a few years ago. Will that go away now?

A: The new filing requirements will be much simpler for same-sex couples. As a result some couples will pay more taxes while some couples may end up paying less.

Health Benefits

Q: Will I be able to add my spouse to my health care plan at work?

A: As long as you are married to your same-sex spouse, your employer should treat you like any other married couple in terms of eligibility and cost of employer provided health insurance coverage.


Social Security

Q: Am I eligible to receive Social Security Death Benefits?

A: In the past same-sex couples were only eligible to collect payments based on their own contributions to social security. Now that DOMA has been tossed out, benefits will also be paid to the surviving partner of a same-sex couple when one of the spouses dies.  


Estate and Gift Tax

Q: Will my spouse be able to inherit from me without being unfairly taxed?

A; Same-sex couples now qualify for unlimited marital deduction benefits. Married persons can give an unlimited amount to a spouse that does not count toward an established limit set when estate taxes kick in ($5.25 million as of 2013).

Q: What documents should I update now that our marriage is recognized?

A: Same-sex couples should review their life insurance policies and retirement accounts (at least) to make sure they designated “spouse” as the beneficiary.


Amending Tax Returns

Q: Do I have to amend previous tax returns to reflect our marital status now that it is recognized?

A: If there is a chance that you may save money by amending previous tax returns it is an option for married same-sex couples, but it is not a requirement.

Q: How many years back can we go to file amended returns to reflect our marital status?

A: The deadline for filing an amended tax return is generally three years from the due date (April 15) or from the filing date (if an extension was filed).


Same-Sex Marriage Divorce

Q: What changes will take place in regard to filing for divorce?

A: In a divorce, the assets divided between a same-sex couple will now no longer be subject to federal taxation.

Q: Can I receive alimony from my ex-spouse?

A: If one spouse pays alimony to the other same-sex spouse, the payer will now be able to deduct it from his or her taxes, which was not the case while DOMA was in effect.



Q: Do we have the right to sponsor a spouse for citizenship?

A: Details on changes to immigration policy regarding same-sex couples have yet to be finalized but the expectation is that sponsorship for bi-national couples will soon be legal. 


Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Q: How do we obtain a same-sex marriage license?

A: Contact the San Francisco office of the county clerk located in city hall. Increased staffing of city officials has increased to better accommodate people interested in obtaining same-sex marriage licenses and additional staff has been recruited to perform ceremonies. If you are in another county, check with your local county clerk’s office at your county’s city hall.


Where you can get more information?

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, ACLU, Lambda Legal and Equality California also have put out a comprehensive fact sheet on marriage issues for same-sex couples in California, which can be downloaded at:


Note:  The LRIS Q&A corner is intended to provide information for same-sex couples in California. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be taken as such. For legal advice concerning your particular situation, please consult an attorney through the Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 415-989-1616 or request a lawyer online.