Marriage Equality in Pennsylvania - What Does it Mean for Same-sex Married Couples?
In a decision that will continue to generate significant changes in the treatment of same-sex married couples in the U.S., the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), holding those provisions of the Act were unconstitutional. Specifically, the Court held that Section 3 of DOMA (which provides that “marriage” means only the legal union between one man and one woman, and “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife) violated the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution as it applies to same-sex couples legally married under the laws of their state. The Court’s decision opens the door for same-sex married couples to enjoy many federal tax and other benefits previously available only to heterosexual married couples, including many income, gift and estate tax advantages.
By explicit recognition of same-sex marriages, or because of challenges to statutes banning such marriages, nineteen states and the District of Columbia now permit marriage between same-sex couples as of the writing of this article. Challenges to the remaining bans on same-sex marriage have been filed in the other thirty-one states, and pending appeal, have already been successful in at least twelve.
Judge John E. Jones II of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled on May 20, 2014, in Whitewood v. Wolf, that Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriages violates both the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Shortly thereafter, the Corbett administration confirmed that the Commonwealth would not appeal that decision. Two weeks later, Theresa Santai-Gaffney (Schuylkill County Clerk of the Orphans’ Court and Register of Wills) filed a Motion for Intervention which Judge Jones denied on June 18, 2014, effectively rendering his May 20, 2014 ruling final. The ruling paves the way for equal treatment of spouses in same-sex marriages for Pennsylvania income and inheritance tax purposes, and provides a plethora of other state and federal legal protections previously available only to heterosexual married couples. This article explores, while borrowing from the style so effectively used by Judge Jones in his opinion, the myriad of ways in which same-sex married couples may be affected by that decision.
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