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The Economic Reality Of The Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Supporters of same-sex marriages gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28, in Washington, D.C.
Mladen Antonov
AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of same-sex marriages gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28, in Washington, D.C.

At Pride events in New York City this weekend, the emotional excitement about marriage equality was evident. But many people also were thrilled about the practical considerations.

Colleen Mahoney and her wife Michelle Conklin are New York residents who joined in the celebrations that marked the Supreme Court's ruling. They now have a marriage that is recognized in all 50 states, and they say that will make it easier to take job transfers or retire anywhere.

"We can travel to all 50 states. We can do anything we want anywhere," Mahoney says.

They also feel more comfortable about traveling throughout the country knowing they would be treated as a married couple in any medical emergency.

"We wouldn't be able to possibly even visit one another or be recognized to make the decisions that need to be made for one another. That has been on our mind for a long time, actually, since we were married," Conklin says.

Taxes are another big change.

Janis Cowhey is an accountant for Marcum LLP, a firm that specializes in advising wealthy LGBT clients. She says some same-sex couples living in the 13 states that didn't recognize same-sex marriage would have to file as many as six different tax returns; that included dummy returns just to get numbers for the real returns.

"People who have income from those 13 states, it's a huge change," she says. "It means you just file a married tax return at the federal level and then you file your state returns. It's not this bifurcated system where you've got one filing status for federal purposes and a totally different one for state purposes."

Cowhey says gay couples no longer have to wonder about who's their next of kin or in which state to file for Social Security benefits.

Things also got easier for human resource departments. No longer do companies have to juggle the different and frequently changing marriage laws around the country.

But there's one new complication: what to do with domestic partnership benefits. About three-quarters of U.S. companies created benefit packages for unmarried committed couples, whether gay or straight. But now that all employees have the right to marry, will those benefits disappear?

J.D. Piro, a vice president at HR consulting company Aon Hewitt, says running those domestic-partnership programs isn't cheap.

"It requires a separate administration, separate reporting system and employers they can decide, you know, 'Hey, that's still worth doing because the benefit is valued by our employees.' But some employers might reach the opposite conclusion," he says.

Friday's Supreme Court decision also gave companies another dilemma: what to say about what's still a polarizing subject. Lots of ordinary companies made overtures in support of marriage equality.

"Family isn't defined by who you love, but how," declares Tylenol's latest ad.

Target, General Electric and Goldman Sachs raised the rainbow flag.

David Paisley helps run Community Marketing & Insights, an LGBT market research company. He says the corporate messaging is about both outreach and in-reach.

"Showing support for same-sex marriage is support for their own employees and the issues that they care about," he says. "And for many corporations it's about recruitment, recruiting the best talent to work at their corporations."

There's also the bottom line. Paisley says gay customers are loyal customers and will stay with the company that makes them feel welcome.

Because of last week's ruling, he adds, more companies will probably start outreach programs as the gay community becomes more mainstream.

Copyright 2021 WSHU. To see more, visit WSHU.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including three SPJ Public Service Awards, a National Murrow, and he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.