Gay Marriage

Perhaps Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage Will Force Real Social Security Reform

Unsustainable social net may become even less sustainable

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Seniors eating cat food? Blame gay marriage.
Credit: Lisa F. Young, Dreamstime.com

Lisa Leff, the Associated Press' go-to reporter on gay issues, takes note of some of the potential tax benefits and – more importantly – changes to entitlements that may come if the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):

For Mina Meyer and Sharon Raphael, two women in their 70s who fell in love more than four decades ago and have been married for more than four years, the U.S. Supreme Court's pending consideration of a law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing unions like theirs is about more than civil rights. It's about buying a new roof for their California home, replacing their 2005 Toyota Camry, and ensuring Meyer doesn't take a financial hit if Raphael dies first.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this month in a challenge to a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, that denies legally married gay and lesbian couples federal benefits available to heterosexual married couples, including tax and Social Security benefits. A decision is not expected until the end of June, but accountants and tax attorneys anticipating the 18-year-old law's demise are already encouraging same-sex couples like Raphael and Meyer to seek prospective tax refunds, back retirement payments and other spousal subsidies they may have been denied.

The case accepted by the Supreme Court involves a woman trying to get a refund of the estate taxes she had to pay after her wife died in 2009. Had their marriage been recognized, she wouldn't have had to pay anything, and now she wants that $363,000 back.

Much more interesting and scary – but maybe in a good way? – is the possible impact on Social Security entitlements should DOMA get struck down and the federal government be forced to recognize same-sex marriages:

A 2009 study by The Williams Institute, a think tank on sexual orientation and the law at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimated that gay couples received an average of $3,060 less a year in Social Security benefits than married straight couples. For lesbian couples, the disparity rose to $5,412. The same study found that gay or lesbian widows or widowers lost out on more than $5,700 a year in survivor benefits than their straight counterparts received.

In the case of retirees Raphael and Meyer, it could mean an additional $7,335 year in Social Security benefits because Meyer, who worked in office jobs and a bookstore, would be entitled to the Social Security benefits of Raphael, who earned considerably more as a college professor for 40 years. That would boost their fixed monthly income by about 10 percent. Last year, on the advice of a professional colleague and with the high court poised to decide if DOMA is constitutional, Meyer applied for more than a year's worth of retroactive benefits as well as bigger future checks if the law is struck down.

If Social Security isn't sustainable as it stands, just imagine what's coming down the line. Here is Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal for reforming Social Security included in the GOP budget plan released today:

  • Require the President to submit a plan to shore up the Social Security Trust Fund
  • Require Congress to submit a plan of its own

Way to go out on a limb, Ryan. I'm surprised no same-sex marriage opponents have tried to scare the elderly with threats that they'll lose Social Security if the gays are allowed to get married.

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  1. I’m surprised no same-sex marriage opponents have tried to scare the elderly with threats that they’ll lose Social Security if the gays are allowed to get married.

    Well, you can’t be simple-minded and just go with arbitrary, axiomatic assumptions like “equality under the law” and other such nonsense. You have to think about what will maximize human well-being. Like a progressive tax system, it could very well be that treating people differently is what’s best for the most people.

    Maybe it’s better for gays not to get married because of SS impacts. Maybe not. You have to consider who benefits and who pays, given both outcomes. That’s much more moral that silly appeals about equality, coercion, and whatnot.

    -Tony

    1. just as Dennis explained I cant believe that a single mom can earn $7790 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this site… http://goo.gl/ASVr8

      1. A single mom sticking her son’s Tonka trucks in her butthole is bound to draw money.

  2. Here is Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal for reforming Social Security included in the GOP budget plan released today:

    Require the President to submit a plan to shore up the Social Security Trust Fund

    Require Congress to submit a plan of its own

    Hey, at least that’s a better plan than what they normally come up with, which is to plan to have a plan at some point in the futu….

    Oh, wait. Nevermind. That is the exact same plan they come up with every time.

  3. I’m a little rusty on DOMA. As I recall, doesn’t it basically say:

    (1) The federal government won’t recognize same-sex marriage valid under state law, and

    (2) States shall not be required to recognize same-sex marriage performed in other states?

    The first one strikes me as an application of the Supremacy Clause.

    Applying the Comity Clause (“The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.”) to require state recognition of same-sex marriage would require a significant change in the jurisprudence. The governing case (Slaugherhouse) states

    Its sole purpose was to declare to the several States, that whatever those rights, as you grant or establish them to your own citizens, or as you limit or qualify, or impose restrictions on their exercise, the same, neither more nor less, shall be the measure of the rights of citizens of other States within your jurisdiction.

    A state that does not recognize same sex marriage for its own citizens would seem to have no Constitutional obligation to recognize same sex marriages under the laws of other states.

    1. An incorrect application of the Supremacy Clause.

      The clause only applies to legislation made in pursuance of the powers actually delegated to the general government. Congress has no authority to make law regarding marriage, same-sex or otherwise.

      Tom Woods would agree.

      1. Not if the Feds are saying that they aren’t bound by state law in the admins traction of (presumptively Constitutional) federal programs.

      2. So tax law and SS law covering how married people are to be treated are unconstitutional?

        1. SS is unconstitutional, so yes on that part. I don’t think there’s anything to justify the feds picking and choosing which state-granted marriage licenses to recognize

  4. Gay marriage and the death of DOMA will have a marginal effect, if any, on the sustainability of Social Security. If your car is already barreling down a hill toward the cliff, taking your foot off the break isn’t gonna get you there that much faster.

    Unless of course some states legalize polygamy. Social Security reform would definitely become a front burner issue if they had to pay survivor benefits to all the members of a health club or all of Lilith Fair.

  5. Naturally, I leave aside the Equal Protection arguments, which strike me as an exercise in assuming the conclusion, namely, that marriage is defined as including same-sex marriage.

    This will be interesting. If the Court rules that the Equal Protection Clause requires states to recognize marriage licenses issued in other states, I have a hard time seeing how that would not mean states have to recognize concealed carry licenses issued in other states.

    I will be especially interested to see the argument that marriage, which is not mentioned in the BOR, is a “fundamental” right, but Second Amendment rights are not.

    1. I have a hard time seeing how that would not mean states have to recognize concealed carry licenses issued in other states.

      Sigh…because guns are teh DIFFERENT, and the 2nd amendment is less than the 1st (duh – that’s why the 1st is 1st and the 2nd is 2nd) and…something and…THE SCIENCE IS SETTLED.

  6. Overturning DOMA is gay.

    No, wait – NOT overturning DOMA is gay.

    THIS WHOLE COURT IS GAY!

    1. DOMA: The Musical! (We’ll make a killing on this I tells ya)

  7. In the recitation of the tax benefits of marriage in these articles, does anyone ever bother to include a recitation of the tax burdens?

    1. It is mentioned at the end of Lisa’s piece. I didn’t quote it because I was really focusing on the Social Security angle.

      1. focusing on the Social Security angle

        So you have an eye for the…more SENIOR ladies.

        *hat tip and a knowing wink*

      2. Here you go:

        Other married same-sex couples may end up paying more in taxes if DOMA is overturned, due to the so-called federal “marriage penalty.” Janis Cowhey McDonagh, a tax attorney in the New York office of accounting firm Marcum LLP, (equals) has been encouraging many of her clients in same-sex marriages to get their returns in order before the Supreme Court rules.

        “If it’s better for them to file single even though they are married, I tell them they need to file before DOMA comes down, because if DOMA comes down, they won’t have the choice,” she said.

        So a little handwaving at the end of an article about “windfalls” if DOMA is struck down. Why do I have the feeling that, on net, paying taxes as a married couple is going to swamp the windfalls for a lot gay couples? Why isn’t there any analysis of this?

        Has the IRS, BTW, signed off on the idea that someone who is legally married under state law can file as if they weren’t? Unless she can point to some specific guidance, this tax attorney could be setting her clients up for a nasty surprise.

        1. Since I am married to an accountant, she does the taxes. Can’t you file separately when married? I thought you used to have the choice between filing as married and married filing separately.

          1. Since I am married to an accountant, she does the taxes. Can’t you file separately when married? I thought you used to have the choice between filing as married and married filing separately.

            Yes but in our current tax setup it’s almost always worse that filing jointly which after a certain income level is worse than single filing separately.

            Source: just got married at the end of the year and am doing my taxes.

            1. So since you can choose which way to file, there is no marriage penalty, unless you are retarded, right? “We would pay more if we filed the other way”?

              1. No you can’t choose to file single if you are married. The income brackets for Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Seperately and Single are all different. At a certain tax bracket the income necessary to enter that bracket is lower for married filing jointly than if you added the two single filers income together. Married filing separately is a third entirely different set of brackets that are in most circumstances worse than either of the other two.

        2. Except in California, where the real estate inheritance taxes and Prop 13 markups in basis when a property is transferred to a non-family member kick in….

    2. Like the fact that if I’d had my wits about me, I’d never have married – for the children tax benefits?

      Once you go “Married Filing Jointly”, you never go back. Till death do us part.

      Stupid falling in love and being young and dumb and stuff!

      1. Once you go “Married Filing Jointly”, you never go back. Till death do us part.

        My next year tax return will prove you wrong.

  8. The case accepted by the Supreme Court involves a woman trying to get a refund of the estate taxes she had to pay after her wife died in 2009. Had their marriage been recognized, she wouldn’t have had to pay anything, and now she wants that $363,000 back.

    That means the court will only address the government’s duty to respect the marriage contract between the two women but not the morality or constitutionality of the state tax itself.

    Let’s say the court grants the plaintiff her arguments as valid and rules in her favor; that would mean that, if I thus want to leave my money to my kids without it being taxed by the government, I should advocate immediately after for the recognition of incestuous marriage contracts with the hope I can get into a marriage arrangement with my two boys in order to protect their inheritance from the greedy hands of government.

    1. Incestuous, gay, and Mexican? There’s a federal grant or sinecure somewhere with your name on it!

      1. I’m just waiting for the check.

  9. If Social Security isn’t sustainable as it stands, just imagine what’s coming down the line.

    Foreboding of bad tidings aside, the fact is that the Social Security problem is not going to be solved by anyone; it will solve itself like all such schemes end: When there are too many hands extended asking for their money.

    I don’t know how much the recognition of gay marriage contracts will impact the sustainability of Social Security, but one thing is clear: It will not matter. The whole thing will solve itself when the Great Default arrives, which is the more likely of scenarios because I don’t believe the Fed will allow runaway hyperinflation to happen.

  10. Not being a welfare recipient I don’t understand how a married couple draws more SS than 2 single people. If 1/2 a married couple draws the max and the other 1/2 flipped burgers and worked in a car wash does she draw tha max as well, rather than the piddly minimum “benefit” she’d get as a single person? How the fuck does that work?

  11. http://www.allaboutlove.org/co…..rriage.htm

    Come on, you knew there had to be some twisted screed out there somewhere. When I am seeking a twisted screed, I head for the evangelicals. Found it! Enjoy a display of tendentiousness good enough for a Commerce Department appointment in the Santorum administration. Hmm, the Santorum administration… Wow, does THAT ever sound scary…

  12. I am not married to my wife. Till death do us part, we’re married. She’s feisty. We’ve been together for going on 15 years. I did ask her to marry me after about a year we were together, but she said “no”. Then a year later she asked me to marry her. I’m beta, no doubt about that, but jumpin’ jesus on a cracker, No.

    I wonder when the United States government will get around to fine tuning the tax and marriage statutes to accommodate me. ME ME ME.

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