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How Federal Laws Can Affect Same Sex Couples

New York legalized gay marriage in June 2011, and it is currently one of only six states to fully recognize same sex unions (the others are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire).  At present, federal law does not recognize same sex unions and defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman, as husband and wife” under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  As a result, same sex couples will run into many challenges when dealing with everyday life issues that are governed by federal law, such as employee benefits and taxation.

Federal law governs many areas of employee benefits and employment itself and will not recognize a spouse in a same sex union.

Federal taxes. Every employee is required to pay federal taxes, which include social security, Medicare, and federal income tax. These taxes are governed by the Internal Revenue Code and do not allow same-sex partners to file jointly as married, which impacts the deductions you can receive. One spouse in a same sex couple can file as head of household, which will get a greater standard deduction than filing separately. The person claiming the head of household deduction must cover more than half of the costs of the household and support a dependent in the house.

Health benefits. Most employers deduct the cost of health care before federal taxes are taken out, which lowers the total amount of money the government taxes you on. Benefits for the same sex spouse are taxed at the federal level as wage income, which means you lose the benefit of this reduction in taxable income.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA is a federal law that allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave and job security to care for family members or spouses. Since federal law does not recognize same sex spouses (are you sensing a theme here?) same sex couples often run into challenges when trying to care for their spouse under FMLA. Fortunately, New York has a state FMLA that does covers spouses and mirrors many of the benefits of the federal law. If you work in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, however, there may be additional issues since neither of those states recognizes gay marriage (Pennsylvania even bans it).

These are complex issues that affect the family. Our experience can help you to insure that your rights are protected and your interests represented. Call or contact our family law firm in New York today for a free initial consultation.

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