16 posts categorized "Marriage Equality"

September 22, 2014

What’s New on the National Stage

SAGE continues to lead federal efforts to improve the lives of LGBT older people, alongside our national partner organizations in the LGBT and aging fields. This summer, we collaborated with other advocates to win Medicare coverage for transgender older people, FMLA benefits for same-sex couples and an executive order that extends more protections to LGBT people. Learn more about new federal policy updates below.

Executive Order to protect LGBT Workers
SAGE was privileged to be in the room with President Barack Obama on July 21, when, with the stroke of a pen, he put in place protections that will help millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults.  In the executive order that he signed that day, he ensured that transgender federal workers are protected against job discrimination based on gender identity.  He also ensured that LGBT employees of federal contractors will be protected against discrimination, which, according to the UCLA’s William’s Institute, protects 34 million of these workers today. Many LGBT older adults, after facing a lifetime of discrimination and lower earnings across the lifespan, continue to workto maintain their economic security.  We welcome the news that this generation--who fought to help many LGBT people out of “the closet”--will be able to bring their full selves to work, at more workplaces, without fear of discrimination.

Medicare Will Cover Transition-Related Care
In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Department Appeals Board (DAB), an independent federal appeals board, ruled that Medicare must cover medically necessary care for individuals with gender dysphoria, just as it does for those with other medical conditions.  In short, Medicare will now cover transition-related care for transgender older adults.  SAGE applauds our advocacy partners—GLAD, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and NCLR—for  their tireless advocacy on this issue.  It was a life-changing victory for transgender older adults, who are finally on a more level playing field with other Medicare recipients.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Benefits Extended to Same Sex Spouses
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take 12 weeks of leave from their jobs without pay for family and medical reasons.  With the Windsor decision in place (the Supreme Court case that cleared the way for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages), the Department of Labor (DOL) announced in August 2013 that it would recognize same-sex marriages, but only those of couples who live in a state that recognizes their marriage.  In June of this year, the DOL announced a proposed “place of celebration” rule, meaning regardless of where a couple lives or moves, the DOL would recognize that same-sex marriage for FMLA purposes.  If and when the rule becomes final, it would ensure that LGBT individuals who take professional leave to care for a sick spouse will enjoy job security—and a little more peace of mind. 

Social Security

With the Windsor decision in hand, President Obama directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review every federal law, rule, policy and practice implicating marriage. On June 20, 2014, nearly a year after the date of the Windsor decision, DOJ completed its comprehensive, year-long review, providing guidance to federal agencies on Windsor implementation.  What does this mean? According to the review, all federal agencies have now implemented Windsor, meaning they are treating married same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same, to the fullest extent possible, under the law.

But what about Social Security benefits for same-sex couples? Here are a few points to help answer this complex question:

 

  • If you are married and living in a state that recognizes marriage equality, generally speaking, SSA (the Social Security Administration) will recognize your marriage.
  • If you are in a Civil Union or Registered Domestic Partnership and living in a state that provides those forms of relationship recognition, generally speaking, SSA is going to recognize your relationship as if you were married.
  • If you are married and were living in a state that recognizes marriage equality when you applied for Social Security benefits, or while your application was pending, SSA will honor your marriage even if you move.
  • If, however, none of the above apply (for example, if you’re married but have always been living in a state that does not recognize marriage equality), you will not receive spousal SSA benefits.  For example, if you have always been living in Biloxi, Mississippi, but flew to Washington, DC, just to get married, SSA will not recognize your marriage.

 

One final important message on this issue:  regardless of where you live, we recommend you apply for spousal Social Security benefits, as new or increased benefits will be granted retroactively.  If the law changes through legislation or litigation, you should get SSA benefits retroactive to the date of your application.

--Posted by Aaron Tax

August 14, 2014

Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)

TakanoOn the occasion of Social Security’s 79th birthday on August 14th, we had a conversation with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) about how the Windsor decision impacted Social Security benefits for older adults. Last month, Takano introduced the Social Security and Medicare Parity Act, which would help couples in non-marriage states qualify for benefits even if the state they reside in doesn’t recognize the marriage.

Why is Social Security such an important program for older adults?

Millions of Americans contribute to Social Security during their working years and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned to help them manage their retirement. With the decline of defined benefit pension plans, Social Security benefits are a becoming even more of a lifeline for seniors from all walks of life. No senior should be denied these full benefits because of who they love.

Aren’t many LGBT older adults very well-off?   Do they even need Social Security?   In other words, why is Social Security so important for married same-sex couples?

The myth that LGBT seniors are better off is patently false. Statistics show that a lifetime of discrimination actually hurts earning power, makes LGBT seniors less likely to have a spouse’s income they can count on, and less likely to have children to help care for them in their old age. LGBT couples, just like all other Americans, have paid into Social Security and Medicare and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned in their retirement.

Didn’t the Windsor decision ensure that the federal government would treat married same-sex couples equally, regardless of where they live in the United States?

The Windsor decision was an historical day that paved the way for equal rights for all Americans no matter who they love. However, Windsor could not change everything overnight. While it overturned section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Justice just concluded a year-long review of what the decision means for other federal statutes. While I and others continue to believe that the Social Security Administration has the discretion to provide spousal and survivor benefits regardless of where a same-sex couple lives, the Justice Department and the Social Security Administration have concluded that eligibility for benefits be based on the state in which the couple resides. That means that couples living in non-marriage states are still prevented from getting the benefits they have earned.

Can you please explain what issues married same-sex couples who live in non-marriage states currently face?  

Not only are couples in non-marriage states ineligible for certain Social Security and Medicare benefits, but a whole other host of federal benefits and protections. They don’t yet qualify for family medical leave to take care of a sick spouse, and veterans and their spouses don't receive the same spousal and survivor benefits as heterosexual couples.

Continue reading "Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)" »

June 20, 2014

Policy Update: FMLA Benefits Extended to Same Sex Spouses

Family illness can cause tremendous stress for caretakers, both physically and emotionally. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 addresses this issue directly by entitling eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

Millions of Americans have benefited from these provisions, but for many LGBT workers these benefits have historically been inaccessible as the government has not recognized their relationships. This challenge is exacerbated for older LGBT adults, who face striking health disparities: increased risk for certain cancers, a greater likelihood of delaying medical care, and higher rates of chronic mental and physical health conditions, including HIV/AIDS.

Given these historic challenges, today’s announcement by the U.S. Secretary of Labor marks a tremendous victory for LGBT older adults.

The announcement from Secretary Thomas E. Perez proposes a rule “extending the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act to all eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages regardless of where they live.”

This means that same sex spouses married in any state would have access to the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts—regardless of where they live. So a couple married in Massachusetts but living in a state which does not recognize their marriage would still be covered by the protections provided by the FMLA. 

According to today's statement from the Department of Labor:

Secretary Perez is proposing this rule in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, in which the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act provision that interpreted “marriage” and “spouse” to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.

The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” said Secretary Perez. “Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families.

The extension of these benefits to same sex spouses will make a significant difference in the health and well-being of LGBT older adults across the United States—regardless of where they live.

To read the full text of the announcement, visit the Department of Labor’s web site online here

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

February 11, 2014

Four Amazing Women of Color Share Their Stories

In honor of February being African American History Month, SAGE will be highlighting our diverse programs, constituents and stories relevant to black aging. Check back for featured stories every Tuesday, with additional posts throughout the month.

Our stories connect us and allow us to share common bonds through the use of words, pictures, music and video. Today, we would like to share stories from four African American women from around the country. Each of their voices and stories are different, but all share the desire for recognition and hope for the future. If you have a story to share, please tell us by visiting our SAGE Story portal on the SAGE website.

Cheryl & Elizabeth, SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast, North Carolina
The two tell us about how despite growing up in faith-based traditions that did not affirm their being lesbians, they somehow met at church. They explain how their faith joined them together and how 10 years later, they are still together and still in church and are accepted in their community!


FrancesFrances, SAGE Harlem, New York City
Frances, 72, is a lover of Zumba and food! She shares her experience of having a stroke and how her lover of 20 years was so supportive and caring of her in the hospital. She wants women to know that they have the power and strength to get better after a debilitating situation such as herself. Listen to her story, recorded in 2013 for SAGE Story, below.

 


Helena Bushong2Helena, SAGE Center on Halsted, Chicago
Helena, a transgender older adult diagnosed with HIV, shares her powerful story in a wonderful essay. She writes, "the most important thing I learned in accepting myself as transgender and also living with HIV/AIDS was about stigma.  I realized that my fear of disclosing my HIV/AIDS status was extremely unhealthy and only contributed to my loneliness and isolation, and would cause me to indeed die faster." Read an excerpt below and the whole story here.

My name is Helena and I am a 60-year-old transgender female living with HIV. I am not a victim. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis is NOT a death sentence, but is similar to living with breast cancer or diabetes, which through some lifestyle changes, are manageable diseases.

I was diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in 2002, and was told I would not live more than six months, and at best, a year. Along with my doctors, I believe that I was a "late tester," meaning because I was diagnosed with AIDS—a late stage infection—and not HIV, I likely contracted HIV 15 to 20 years before showing any sign or symptoms. Because people can carry HIV/AIDS asymptomatically, it is important to be tested on a regular basis to avoid a late test and spreading the disease.

Read her whole story here.

December 10, 2013

International Human Rights Day: LGBT Around the World

MandelaquoteIn 1993, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights. This declaration reaffirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter and remains a blueprint for reaffirming human rights as a universal standard throughout the world. Today is International Human Rights Day and the U.N. is marking the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declration. We recognize this day for its affect on promoting all freedoms--civil, political, economical, social and cultural--under a large umbrella. While sad, it almost seems appropriate that this day also marks the memorial to Nelson Mandela--that tireless fighter for human rights.

On this day, many are making a call for renewing a committment to LGBT rights. While we have much to celebrate in 2013, there is still progress to be made, both in the United States and around the world.

In the United States, 16 states have legal same-sex marriage and 33 states have same-sex marriage bans. Also, 21 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 17 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression. We have to remember that these stats don't encompass the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community every day in their schools, places of work or where they live.

According to Stonewall UK, "being gay is illegal in 78 countries across the world and being a lesbian is illegal in 49. In five countries same-sex sexual activity carries the death penalty.
Even where it’s legal to be gay other laws often stand in the way of equality. In some cases gay pride marches are not allowed and neither is literature that ‘promotes homosexuality’ - which often means it simply states its existence." Another breakdown from 76Crimes, lists 78 (plus 4) countries with criminal laws against sexual activity by LGBTI people.

On this International Human Rights Day, SAGE joins the chorus in calling for a better recognition of human rights for our community around the world and commends the work of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission. We encourage folks to watch this excellent video from the United Nations and share.

 

August 27, 2013

What Does the DOMA Decision Mean for Same-Sex Couples?

Sciacca
Tom Sciacca, Esq.
Today’s guest author is Thomas Sciacca, a principal at the Law Offices of Thomas Sciacca, PLLC, and a longtime SAGE volunteer and supporter. In the wake of the Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8, many same-sex couples are wondering how the law will impact them. Tom offers insights on the decisions, and five points for couples to consider in an article originally posted on SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. Below is an excerpt from the article; read the full piece here. Note: While these tips are aimed at New Yorkers, the main points here apply to older same-sex couples in other states where marriage equality has passed.

 

On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. In ruling for the basic equality and dignity of all people, the Court held that the Federal government could not lawfully discriminate against same-sex married couples by declining to provide them with the same rights Federal law affords to opposite-sex married couples.

Bands[T]he Court’s recent decisions are certainly cause for celebration. However, the savvy reader may inquire—how does this decision affect the legal affairs of the legally-married LGBT New Yorker? To respond to that, I humbly offer five legal tips that should help start an informed conversation between you and your attorney, financial advisor, and tax preparer:

1. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to consider getting married. Under the yoke of DOMA, LGBT married couples faced a level of discriminatory hurdles while interacting with the Federal government. New York State recognized their marriages and afforded them all available rights, while the Federal government regarded them differently. With the Supreme Court ruling Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, much of the disparate treatment has fallen by the wayside.

2. Same-sex couples can now file joint Federal income tax returns. Here is something you never had before—a reason to get excited when filing your 1040! Since 2011, New York’s same-sex married couples could file a joint NYS income tax return, but not a joint Federal income tax return. Often, this resulted in couples preparing two sets of tax returns listing different marital status on each, with all the resulting frustration and cost. Effective immediately same-sex married couples can file a single return, or, if it is to their financial benefit, file as “married filing separately.” Couples should also review their previous Federal income tax returns (since their marriage)—it may be in their interest to file amended Federal income tax returns if it will result in a larger refund. Additionally, a surviving spouse may wish to file an amended Federal estate tax return if it will produce a refund.

3. Be wary when traveling or relocating to a state that does not recognize marriage equality. As mentioned above, the Supreme Court only invalidated Section 3 of DOMA, which regulates Federal recognition of valid same-sex marriages. It did not invalidate Section 2, which allows states to not recognize your marriage, and, essentially, deny you with all of the rights of a married couple. Think twice before moving to a state that bans same-sex marriage, and, if you do, consult your attorney to make sure you have a Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Living Will in place to protect your legal status. Sometimes, the lost civil liberties greatly outweigh the lower taxes or nicer weather.

4. Check beneficiaries on retirement accounts. A Federal law known as ERISA governs all retirement accounts, including most 401(k), 403(b), SEP, SIMPLE, and IRA programs. This law requires that your spouse inherit a minimum of half of the qualified retirement account, unless he or she consents to an alternate distribution by signing the beneficiary designation form before a Notary Public. Often, people choose to name non-spouse beneficiaries (younger relatives, charities, etc.) on these accounts because of the significant tax advantages offered by such a designation. If those are your wishes, make sure your spouse signs the consent. In the past, this was not necessary, as DOMA prevented the Federal government from recognizing all same-sex relationships. A simple check on the form will save hassle/aggravation later.

5. Review your Wills. In general, one should review his or her Will (and other estate planning documents) every 2-3 years. Under New York law, a subsequent marriage may automatically revoke some or all of an existing Will. In general, a Will that lists an individual by name is more effective than one that lists an individual by relationship (such as “to my domestic partner”—especially if that person is now a spouse). Spend a few minutes reviewing these documents, and speak to your attorney about whether or not they still reflect your wishes fully. Now that same-sex spouses can transfer assets between each other free of estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax, now may also be a good time to review the tax planning in those documents to ensure you can take advantage of all available rules.

Of course, these tips are not a substitute for a meeting with the appropriate professional, who can tailor his or her advice to your specific needs.

And remember—it is a time to celebrate!

July 23, 2013

Social Security Benefits Post DOMA

On Wednesday, July 17, 2013, the Social Security Administration (SSA) posted new guidance on its website regarding the implications of the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ruling for Social Security benefits. 

SSA states in its press release: “We encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits.”  SSA will process the claims when it receives final instructions on how to do so. 

SSA posted two related frequently asked questions on its website:

Q1:     What should I do if I think I might be eligible for benefits?

A1:     If you think you might be eligible for benefits, we encourage you to apply right away.  Applying now will preserve your filing date, which we use to determine the start of potential benefits.

Q2:     When will SSA begin paying benefits to same sex couples?

A2:     We will move swiftly to process claims once we have finalized instructions for our personnel.

Stay tuned to the SAGE website for the latest information as the federal government navigates the implications of the DOMA ruling for LGBT older adults.

 

 

July 19, 2013

The Importance of Visitation Rights

Charles_douglas2On June 28, 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a “reminder” to State Survey Agency Directors about access and visitation rights in long-term care (LTC) facilities.

The gist of the memo was to clarify that the 24-hour access and visitation rights residents already have include access and visitation by same-sex spouses and same-sex domestic partners. As the memo stated, “Residents must be notified of their rights to have visitors on a 24-hour basis, who could include, but are not limited to, spouses (including same-sex spouses), domestic partners (including same-sex domestic partners), other family members, or friends.” (Emphasis added.)

Denial of visitation rights to same-sex spouses and same-sex domestic partners is still a sad reality for many LGBT older people. The story of Charles and Douglas, found below, illustrates this point. (Note: while the CMS memo refers to LTC facilities, and Charles and Douglas’ story took place in a hospital, the underlying theme is the same, an utter lack of respect for a same-sex couple’s relationship by the people who should have been supporting them.)

By reiterating resident rights concerning access and visitation, CMS has sent a strong message not only to those who run LTC facilities but also to LGBT older adults, their family members, and friends that LGBT older adults and their loved ones must simply be treated the same as everyone else.   

Charles and Douglas’ Story

Like newlyweds the world over, Charles and Douglas were flying high on their return trip to Salt Lake City following their joyous marriage celebration in New York City in 2011. Hand in hand, they were still glowing after the ceremony that sealed the bond of their 12-year relationship. But onboard the flight back to Utah, a sobering thought began to sink in for Charles—the sad recognition that marriage equality was still something that existed only in a few states. He pulled aside a flight attendant and asked, “Will you let us know when we cross over into Pennsylvania? Because after that, we are no longer legal.”

Continue reading "The Importance of Visitation Rights" »

June 26, 2013

SAGE Celebrates Supreme Court Decision to Overturn DOMA

2873_001Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) congratulates Edie Windsor and joins her in celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), paving the way for the federal government to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that loving and committed couples of all ages who marry deserve equal legal respect and treatment.

“This is a joyous moment in our country’s history, thanks in large part to Edie Windsor, who fought many hard-won battles along the way to this victory,” said Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE. “Older lesbian and gay couples were especially hard hit by DOMA, and their health, well-being and quality of life will now be vastly improved. Congratulations to Edie, a longtime SAGE hero, on breaking down another barrier to full equality for LGBT elders!”

Today’s ruling is a tremendous victory that means that thousands of older lesbian and gay couples will be able to better protect their families because they will finally have equal access to federal benefits, programs and protections that provide safety and support for older Americans.

Windsor’s case highlighted the real harms that DOMA causes legally married older same-sex couples. LGBT elders are less financially secure and in poorer health than American elders as a whole. Many LGBT elders, like their heterosexual peers, rely on federally provided benefits, programs and protections to help ease their financial burdens. Many of these federal benefits, from Social Security to Medicare, are founded on the presumption of marriage, yet DOMA denied access to these benefits even to legally married same-sex couples.

In another victory for marriage equality, the Supreme Court also ruled today in Hollingsworth v. Perry that the proponents of Proposition 8 do not possess legal standing to appeal the lower court rulings that invalidated Prop. 8.  The decision makes permanent the landmark Federal District Court ruling that found Prop. 8 unconstitutional, and means the swift restoration of marriage equality in California. Now, same-sex couples can legally marry in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

With these decisions adding to the momentum for marriage, SAGE will continue to stand with the majority of Americans who support marriage equality, looking toward the day when DOMA is overturned completely, same-sex couples of all ages can marry in any state, and LGBT elders have access to the same protection and support as all older Americans.

To learn more about the impact of marriage equality on LGBT older adults, see SAGE’s Marriage Equality issue page. For stories of older LGBT couples, visit SAGE Story.

June 14, 2013

SAGE and Freedom to Marry Host Marriage Equality Event

Today, Aaron Tax, SAGE’s Director of Federal Government Relations, tells us about an event on marriage equality held earlier this week.

SAGE, like many others in the LGBT field, is anxiously awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is expected by the end of the month. In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision, on June 10, SAGE and Freedom to Marry organized an event at the National Press Club that provided the aging network the opportunity to speak out against DOMA and express its support for marriage equality.  The panel, moderated by political strategist Hilary Rosen, and featuring aging leaders, policy experts, and a local LGBT older adult, discussed the harms DOMA causes to older same-sex couples. If you’re interested in what the panel talked about, visit SAGE’s marriage equality page, where many of the points brought up during this discussion are found.

At the event, Freedom to Marry also debuted a new, touching video about the 54-year relationship between Bill Campbell and John Hilton. While they were registered as domestic partners in New York, the marriage equality did not come to them soon enough—Bill passed away before it became it a reality in New York state.

We are thankful to the following individuals and organizations for participating in the event: Sarah L. Byrne, senior legislative representative, Alliance for Retired Americans; Paul Nathanson, executive director, National Senior Citizens Law Center; Web Phillips, senior legislative representative, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare; Stacy Sanders, federal policy director, Medicare Rights Center; Thomas Sciacca, NY attorney with expertise in estate and disability planning; and Imani Woody, co-chair of SAGE Metro DC and director and founder of Mary’s House for Older Adults.

For more marriage stories from older LGBT couples, visit SAGE Story.