And now there are 18.
Federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled in a 39-page decision Tuesday that Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, sparking a rush of marriage license applications in county courthouses throughout the state. With the decision by Judge Jones, Pennsylvania becomes the 18th state to recognize the legality of same-sex marriage.
The state has 30 days to appeal the decision but, pending the outcome of any further legal action, same-sex marriages are now recognized as legal by the federal and state government.
This means, not only can same-sex couples marry in Pennsylvania, but this also affects their eligibility to file jointly in bankruptcy petitions and also can affect Social Security Disability claims.
The path to joint bankruptcy filings was cleared at the federal level in June, 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which did not recognize same-sex marriages at the federal government level. That decision cleared the way for legally married same-sex couples to be eligible for federal benefits, including the right to file a joint bankruptcy.
The decision by Judge Jones added Pennsylvania to the list of states where same-sex marriage is legally recognized.
Bankruptcy law permits a married couple to file one bankruptcy petition together. For many couples, filing a joint bankruptcy petition has more advantages than filing separate forms, but that’s not always the case. That’s why the best advice is to talk with one of the attorneys at Steidl and Steinberg to examine your financial situation and determine what your best options are.
This decision also affects Social Security Disability cases in Pennsylvania. If a person filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is married, Social Security considers the income and assets of the couple in determining a claimant’s eligibility to file for SSI. This is a needs-based program. The decision by Judge Jones has no effect on people filing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Social Security benefits for retirement, surviving spouse and lump-sum death benefit payment claims for legally married same-sex couples are also now in effect in Pennsylvania.
The ruling will also impact how same-sex couples file their income tax returns .Same-sex couples that marry will now have the option of filing their tax returns jointly. This will provide many of those couples with tax benefits, but it also opens the door to having one spouse owe income taxes due to the actions of the other spouse.
Same-sex couples that choose to marry also have the right to inherit from their deceased spouse if their spouse did not have a will under Pennsylvania law.
“By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the commonwealth,” Judge Jones wrote. “Encompassed within the right to liberty is the fundamental right to marry.”
For help with bankruptcy, Social Security Disability and tax questions in this changing legal landscape, contact us at Steidl and Steinberg.