June 26th is a date that will forever be remembered as one that changed the nation. The cultural and emotional implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide were evident on the faces of many same-sex couples who married in Georgia on Friday.
Some 17 same-sex marriages were performed in Fulton County alone, according to the AJC, before 2:30 p.m. on the day of the ruling, epitomizing the ease with which same-sex couples may now legally tie the knot.
Even as the event continues to provoke cheers among many, and jeers among a few, there’s still much to understand: namely, how it might affect same-sex Georgia residents who are ready to take the proverbial plunge. Below we talk about some of the legal changes that are now in effect when it comes to same-sex spouses.
‘Applicant 1′ and ‘Applicant 2.’ vs. ‘Bride’ and Groom.’
Georgia, a state that previously had a ban on same-sex marriages, must now lawfully recognize the marriage licenses and matrimony of two people, regardless of their respective genders.
Legal documents, whether they are marriage licenses or divorce papers, will now be gender-neutral, such as “Applicant 1” and “Applicant 2” instead of “Bride” and “Groom” and other such expressions.
This brings us to the following…
The Benefits and Incentives of Georgia Same-Sex Marriages
So what does all this mean?
To same-sex couples who are ready to swap rings, or may have already done so, in a state where gay marriage was legal, it means a lot. Same-sex couples will now receive the same federal and state incentives that other committed couples have been able to acquire for some time.
Taxes are tedious on their own, but before the Supreme Court’s ruling, they were even worse for same-sex couples, especially those who were married but living in states like Georgia that didn’t recognize the otherwise legal union.
In those cases, couples had to file jointly at the federal level and then separately at the state level. Now they can make and save money, and time, by filing them all jointly and staying away from their accountants’ offices for hours on end.
Much has been said about health insurance over the years, but, regardless of your point of view, one thing is clear: everyone should have it. Though 66% of Fortune 500 companies already extend health care benefits to the same-sex spouses of their employees, there’s a final 34% that will now be forced to do so, and at a much cheaper rate than they would have before. Until now, same-sex partners who did receive insurance but were unable to marry were forced to pay income taxes on those benefits. Now, married spouses will not have to pay extra taxes on those benefits, regardless of their gender.
In fact, according to CNN Money, because of the country-wide inconsistencies on the matter, the private sector spent more than $1 billion last year on the changes involved with providing partner benefits. Now, not only will husbands be able to take care of their husbands, and wives their wives, but their employers can now to get back to doing business without all the extra hoops to jump through.
According to a report conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, before June 26th, the same-sex spouse of a deceased or retired breadwinner lost some $780 a month because they were considered a ‘stranger’ under the Social Security Act. Not only that, but if the couple had a child, the unrecognized spouse would forfeit close to $10,000 a year in household-sustaining benefits.
For decades, Social Security has acted as a safety net for many families whose breadwinners have either died, retired or been rendered incapable of doing what they do best. Now, for the first time in Georgia, same-sex couples can live with that same protection.
Additionally, under the ruling, same-sex couples will now be allotted the one-time payment of $255 that the Social Security Administration allows for the financial burden of burials and funeral services.
In addition to the Social Security benefits one might now receive after the death of their same-sex spouse, there’s also the matter of inheritance. Before, in Georgia, since same-sex spouses were not legally recognized. The survivor of the deceased didn’t automatically qualify to receive their loved one’s assets, nor were they allowed to sue for damages in the event of a wrongful death.
Now, after the decision, they’ll fall under the classification of “surviving spouse,” just like everyone else. Moreover, for the husbands and wives of law enforcement officials and members of the military, survivor’s benefits will become available in the event that their loved one is killed on active duty.
Medical Decisions and Emergencies
A trip to the emergency room is far from anyone’s idea of a dream scenario, but it’s even more of a nightmare when you’re not allowed to have your loved one by your side. Such was the case for Georgia same-sex couples before the ruling.
Again, identified as strangers, they were not allowed to accompany their partners into hospital ICUs, nor were they allowed to make any important medical decisions without proper documentation. Now they are.
Although divorce is not necessarily a benefit or an incentive, same-sex couples now re actually able to get a divorce. Before the new ruling, when same-sex couples decided to call it quits, they might not have been able to get a divorce at all. Most states have residency requirements for a couple to get a divorce. If a couple got married in a state that allowed same sex marriage, but lived in or moved to a state that didn’t have same sex marriage, they were not eligible to get a divorce. Now they can forego that awful irony and avail themselves right here in the state of Georgia.
In conclusion, according to a 2006 survey conducted by the Williams Institute, at least 15,000 same-sex couples call Atlanta and its surrounding areas home.
Nearly 300,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals reside in Georgia — which sits eighth in a list of top ten states.
Though some of the broader implications of the Supreme Court’s decision are yet to be determined, the ability to say “I do” and reap some of the rewards, long offered to other married Americans, will at least allow this growing Georgia community to better comprehend where they now (legally) stand within the state.