Last Friday morning, June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court announced their 5-4 decision on marriage equality – Same-Sex Marriage is a Right. Their ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges (No. 14–556. Argued April 28, 2015—decided June 26, 2015; part of several appeals cases consolidated into one):
Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. Saying that gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marry, he wrote “No union is more profound than marriage…In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
Though this ruling supports a national position on marriage, its sentiment is not on the difference between traditional marriage and same-sex marriage, but from the perspective and in the name of dignity. While dignity is not (as a word) in the US Constitution, the concept is in the underlying spirit of the Bill of Rights and Justice Kennedy has often referenced the intrinsic value of dignity on many of the Court’s rulings. Whether or not the Court majority based its reasoned decision on a fundamental belief that the Fourteenth Amendment does not allow discrimination between spouses based on sex, marriage will now be defined across the land without reference to gender, invalidating nearly half of our states’ marriage laws. This will result in the recognition of same-sex marriages in all fifty states, maybe not immediately, and certainly not without substantial protest in various parts of our country.
From an income tax, gift and estate tax perspective, as well as from the perspective of all of the 1,138 rights, privileges and protections now afforded married couples under federal statute(s), the same state-level rights and protections will eventually be granted to all married residents in every state. This uniformity in treatment will allow all married families to make similar choices in estate planning and gifting, in matters of family building that won’t require double-adoption, equal protection for veterans’ benefits, spousal retirement and Social Security benefits under the VA, ERISA and SSA respectively. It’s simply a matter of time before there are no differences under the law.
If you have any questions about how this ruling might affect you or you are ready to begin planning for your family, retirement or estate, please contact your trusted advisor.