UPDATE – Status of Same Sex Marriage in Pennsylvania

A few months ago we posted a blog regarding the status of Same Sex Marriage in Pennsylvania. At the time we talked about the pending litigation in the Federal District Court regarding Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) 23 Pa.C.S.A. §1704 which does not allow for same sex marriages and does not recognize same sex marriages entered into legally in another state. Now, as most people have heard, on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, III ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional on the grounds of Equal Protection and Due Process, whereby allowing same sex couples to marry as well as giving recognition to all same sex marriages legally entered into in another State. In addition, on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced that he will not appeal Judge Jones’ decision. As such, same sex marriage is now legal in Pennsylvania and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

The question that now arises is what does this change mean for Pennsylvanians? For people currently in heterosexual marriages the ruling will have no effect on their day to day lives. The real change comes for those Pennsylvanians who were previously legally married in same sex weddings in another state and for those who now choose to have a same sex wedding in Pennsylvania. Social Security, employer provided benefits and inheritance taxes are three of the areas that will see the most dramatic changes.

Same sex couples who marry can now reap the same benefits as heterosexual couples. These include the right to receive Social Security benefits based upon a spouse’s income; the right to be carried on a spouse’s employer provided health insurance; no transfer tax when transferring property from one spouse to the other; the right to inherit without having to pay inheritance tax; and the right to make decisions for his/her spouse in the hospital. In addition, those same sex couples who marry in Pennsylvania can now file joint Federal Income Tax returns and benefit from filing jointly. Those same sex couples that had already been legally married in another State already had the right to file jointly, based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor.

Newly married same sex couples should also be aware that there are steps that they should take, such as changing beneficiary designations and changing deeds on jointly owned property to reflect their marital status.

Finally, same sex couples who are married will now fall under Pennsylvania’s Divorce Code. This means that if these couples should decide to separate they will be able to file for divorce and be protected by Pennsylvania’s Divorce Code, just as any married heterosexual couple.

For more information on this topic or any other topic related to issues of PA divorce (or in general), custody, support or family mediation in general, please contact Kris Smull or call (800) 615-0115.

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