HRC Blog

On Tax Day, a Focus on Inequality for Same-Sex Couples

photo by flickr user minwoo As today is Tax Day we're focusing on the inequalities faced by same-sex couples and the status of legislation to address them. Today HRC President Joe Solmonese, along with business leaders from American Airlines and The Chubb Corporation, published a piece on HuffingtonPost.com focusing on the tax burden of domestic partner benefits that hurts both workers and their employers.  When opposite-sex married couples get spousal health insurance from their employer, it's not taxed, but the same is not true for same-sex couples. In the Huffington Post piece, Solmonese, Will Ris (American Airlines' Senior Vice President, Government Affairs) and Donna Griffin (Chubb's Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer) write:

Our tax system does not reflect this advancement in true meritocracy in the workplace. Under current federal law, employer-provided health benefits for domestic partners are subject to income tax and payroll tax. As a result, a lesbian or gay employee who claims this benefit takes home less pay than the colleague at the next cubicle. This is not only unfair—it’s bad public policy.

Read the whole thing at HuffingtonPost.com and follow the jump for more information on tax issues faced by same-sex couples and what we're doing to address them...

  • Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act (H.R. 2625 / S. 1153)

Currently, when employers offer health benefits to the spouses and dependents of their employees, the employee does do not have to take the value of those benefits into income.  Since this exclusion is not available domestic partners, the value of the benefits is treated as income, triggering additional income and payroll tax liability of more than $1,700 per year (for an average wage worker making $33,000 with a typical employer health plan). The bill would treat the value of employer-provided health insurance for a domestic partner the same as it does for spouses or dependents – excluding it from the employee’s income.

  • Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 2517 / S. 1102)

For federal employees, just as in the private sector, benefits, such as health insurance and retirement savings, are a significant portion of employee compensation.  The federal government offers attractive family benefits to employees with different-sex spouses, but does not offer the same benefits to lesbian and gay workers with partners.  This bill would provide the same family benefits to lesbian and gay federal civilian employees as are already provided to employees with different-sex spouses.

  • Family Medical Leave Insurance Act (H.R. 1723)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) grants legally married spouses up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work to care for a seriously ill spouse, parent or child.  The law fails to include coverage for millions of LGBT Americans in committed, long-term relationships and many families that do qualify for FMLA coverage cannot afford to take unpaid leave. This bill would grant essential benefits to working families by providing twelve weeks of paid FMLA coverage to employees seeking to take leave to care for their families, including leave to care for a domestic partner and their children.

  • The Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act (H.R. 2132)

Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants legally married spouses up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work to care for a seriously ill spouse, parent or child.  The law does not however cover same-sex partners or spouses.  This bill would expand the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to permit an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work if his or her domestic partner or same-sex spouse has a serious health condition.

  • Equal Access to COBRA Act of 2010 (S. 3182)

Currently, federal law requires employers to offer continuing health care coverage (COBRA) to departing employees and their beneficiaries for up to 36 months.  These coverage requirements do not extend to domestic partners or same-sex spouses – even at companies that offer health coverage to domestic partners of employees. This bill would change federal law to allow equal access to COBRA coverage for all individuals who are covered by an employer’s health plan.

  • Respect for Marriage Act (H.R. 3567)

Due to the Defense of Marriage Act, states can refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same-sex couples and carves all same-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, out of all federal statutes, regulations, and rulings applicable to all other married people—thereby denying them over 1100 federal benefits and protections.  This bill would repeal DOMA in its entirety, and ensures that valid marriages are respected under federal law, providing couples certainty that regardless of where they travel or move, they will not become strangers under federal law if a state refuses to recognize them as married for purposes of that state’s law.

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