Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ruling carries ‘major’ implications for couples’ benefits

     Marianne Mondt of Philadelphia is shown waving a gay pride flag during a rally at City Hall to celebrate the overturning of Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

    Marianne Mondt of Philadelphia is shown waving a gay pride flag during a rally at City Hall to celebrate the overturning of Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

    Tuesday’s court ruling, overturning Pennsylvania’s same sex marriage ban, followed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s announcement that he won’t be appealing, marks an emotional victory for many same-sex couples across the commonwealth. But the ruling also carries some real implications, when it comes to couples’ benefits.

    Medical decisions

    A person can already designate a same-sex partner, or anyone else for that matter, to make medical decisions if he or she can’t. Angela Giampolo, an attorney and chair of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia, says the court’s recent ruling makes it easier for same-sex couples in Pennsylvania to secure those rights and visit loved ones in the hospital.

    “Now you’re considered legally married, so a doctor, they look to the husband [or wife] for specific answers,” said Giampolo. “And in the hospital room as a married couple, there will be default decisions that the hospital staff, physicians will allow you to make.”

    Giampolo still recommends couples carry hospital authorization and power of attorney forms anyway, just in case.

    Health insurance

    “I was walking by my hair dresser on the day of celebration yesterday, and he gave me a big hug, and he said I’m calling Independence [Blue Cross] first thing tomorrow,” Giampolo recalled. “He’s been with his partner for 14 years, he has twins, nine year olds, and they’ve never been able to be on a family plan.”

    Even for same-sex couples who already had access to employer health benefits for non-married partners,  they have been paying more for it, because health care for non-married couples is taxed as income. This week’s ruling lifts that tax burden said Giampolo. She and others worry that seeking out this coverage could be risky because Pennsylvania does not have anti-discrimination protections covering gays and lesbians.

    “Because we don’t have a civil rights bill which protects people against employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, that particular issue might become convoluted,” said Barrett Marshall, an attorney with the Mazzoni Center.

    When it comes to accessing health coverage on one’s own, the Affordable Care Act allows same-sex couples, even residing in states that don’t recognize their marriage, to enroll jointly. The next marketplace enrollment period starts November 15, but couples who are getting married for the first time can qualify for a special enrollment period to sign up before then.

    Adoption

    Giampolo says prior to the ruling, adoption was a costlier, longer process for same-sex couples.

    “I would have to adopt a child from foster care, and then you would do a ‘second-parent adoption,’ that I would permit,” she said.

    Some federal benefits

    Last year’s overturn of key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act granted more federal benefits, like Social Security, to same-sex couples, regardless of whether they lived in a state that recognizes their marriage. But couples residing in states where marriage is not legal don’t have access to about 300 of the 1,100 federal benefits, according to Giampolo. She said veteran’s benefits, for example, were not available to same-sex couples living in Pennsylvania.

    Got questions about what happens now for same-sex couples? Angela Giampolo has compiled an FAQ.

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