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Today, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and denied same-sex married couples eligibility for over 1,000 federal laws, programs and benefits, such as Social Security survivors’ benefits, insurance benefits, immigration rights, family leave and tax filing.

This major victory permits same-sex couples who are legally married under their state’s laws access to the same federal benefits and responsibilities available to married opposite sex couples.

Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the majority opinion of this 5-4 decision, stating that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.

The plaintiff in this landmark case was Edith Windsor, as the Executor of the Estate of her spouse, Thea Spyer. Edie and Thea, New York City residents, were together for over 40 years, and were legally wed in Ontario, Canada in 2007. Thea died in 2009, leaving her entire estate to her surviving spouse. If Edie and Thea’s marriage had been recognized under federal law, Edie would have claimed the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, and no federal estate tax would have been due upon Thea’s death. However, because DOMA barred Edie from claiming the exemption, Thea’s estate was subject to a federal estate tax amounting to $363,000.

This ruling has immediate and significant impacts relating to Elder Law and estate planning for same-sex couples in New York. Since New York State has legalized same-sex marriage, federal benefits and programs will now be available to those couples living in New York. This expansion of rights for married gay couples is especially dramatic in the field of tax planning and survivorship rights for federal programs such as Social Security.

Same-sex couples residing in New York should review their estate plans and long-term goals with an Elder Law attorney to discuss the benefits that will now be available to them.

Lamson and Cutner has always been a champion for LGBT rights and our firm is committed to assisting same-sex elderly and disabled individuals gain access to the programs and benefits that they are entitled to. It is with great joy that we can help same-sex married couples access even more benefits today.

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