With many states considering freedom to marry legislation and two landmark cases about the freedom to marry before the U.S. Supreme Court, New York Times bestselling author and CNBC Host Suze Orman moderated a panel discussion Thursday at New York University on the economic harms caused by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the denial of marriage for same-sex couples.
The panel, called “The Cost of Marriage Inequality,” was sponsored by the Respect for Marriage Coalition, a coalition of more than 80 organizations supporting the freedom to marry, and the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation. It also featured Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who was the first state governor to call for marriage equality in his inaugural address and is seeking passage of legislation in his state. Orman and Gov. Chafee were also joined by Nanette Lee Miller, a leader at Marcum LLP’s LGBT practice group, and two couples from New York and Maryland who discussed the economic hardships DOMA and marriage inequality have cost them.
“Every state in the union could pass marriage equality legislation and it would not be enough,” Suze Orman said. “Only when our federal government steps up and treats all legally married couples equally under the law will the discrimination end.”
“As a governor, while I believe the freedom to marry is a civil rights priority for our state, it’s also an important economic necessity,” Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee stated. “As the only state in New England without marriage equality, Rhode Island is at a competitive disadvantage with our regional neighbors. Our state has a long history of entrepreneurism, which requires advanced technology, continued innovation, top talent and equality. It’s what people and businesses look for and demand. And it’s why I’m fighting hard to bring the freedom to marry to Rhode Island.”
Two same-sex married couples – Jo-Ann Shain and Mary-Jo Kennedy from New York, and Colette Hayward and Margaret Selby from Maryland – also discussed how DOMA has disadvantaged them personally – and how things would be different if the federal government recognized their marriages.
Passed by Congress in 1996, DOMA renders same-sex couples ineligible for a long list of federal protections and benefits that are available to other couples. Despite the fact that a growing bipartisan majority of Americans support marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, same-sex marriages cannot be recognized by the federal government without an end to DOMA.
DOMA and marriage inequality hurts families, businesses, and our economy at large. Because of DOMA, married same-sex couples and their families are not eligible for federal purposes, and their spouses are not entitled to the same economic benefits and protections available to married straight employees. DOMA also hurts business by financially penalizing companies that offer competitive benefits to all employees by treating benefits for married same-sex families as taxable income, costing millions of dollars annually. Companies in states without equal marriage rights also face a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent among prospective LGBT employees.
“We took care of each other when we were sick, in good times and bad times; we were in it for the long haul, but we couldn’t marry until July 24, 2011-the first day same-sex couples could legally marry in New York,” said Jo-Ann Shain. “Because DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing our marriage, we have faced and will continue to face several financial burdens including taxes on health benefits, higher taxes, loss of Social Security survivor benefits and additional legal costs.”
“When we got married in Massachusetts in 2009, it was important to both of us that my employer – the Baltimore County Police Department – recognize our marriage and allow me to put Colette on my benefits policy. After all, I’ve been an officer in the department, and those benefits are available to every other married police officer,” Margaret Selby said. “Colette and I turned to lawyers at Lambda Legal to help us get the spousal protections, but because of DOMA, that’s cost us extra taxes and additional financial strain.”
Nanette Lee Miller, Marcum LLP’s West Coast Partner-In-Charge of Assurance Services and national leader of Marcum LLP’s LGBT practice group shared the Firm’s recently released interactive map tracking marriage for same-sex couples by state with corresponding tax information. Miller provided data on the economic harms to a very important part of the nation’s workforce.
“Same-sex married couples face additional costs that heterosexual couples do not, due to inequitable tax treatment under DOMA. Costs and rights for same-sex couples are different in different states,” Nanette Lee Miller added. “Financial planning is essential for married same-sex couples. Many couples have to plan around current legislation to ensure they have legal and financial contingencies in place for their future.”
The most recent national polling shows that three-quarters of all voters believe that marrying the person you love is a fundamental freedom and Constitutional right for every American, including gays and lesbians. A majority of Americans also believes that to continue denying gays and lesbians the freedom to marry constitutes discrimination. To demonstrate the bipartisan majority of support for the freedom to marry, the Respect for Marriage Coalition this week launched a national million-dollar TV, print, and online advertising campaign.
For more information about DOMA, the economic harms of marriage equality, and the Respect for Marriage Coalition’s work to advance the freedom to marry, visit RespectforMarriage.org.