On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. The ensuing riots are regarded by many as the start of the gay rights movement in the United States. How fitting that the Supreme Court's ruling that state bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional comes almost exactly 46 years later. For those of us who have spent all or a portion of those 46 years trying to help LGBT couples plan for their financial futures, while existing as legal strangers, this ruling makes our specialty almost obsolete.
Essentially, many of the planning challenges that existed for couples even five years ago are gone, though there are still some potential problems LGBT clients could face in creating their financial plans. While emotionally this marks a turning point in our nation's history, what does it mean practically for financial planners?
The core of our planning now focuses on whether a couple is married. Married couples have long had some advantages (and disadvantages) under federal and state laws. The ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges means that gay couples who choose to marry in any state will be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples who choose to get married in that state. This means that the vast majority of planning "hoop jumps" that used to be the norm for LGBT clients are no longer necessary. Tax planning, gifting, estate taxes and home ownership are now more about married or single than about gay or straight.
But other areas of planning may not benefit as fully from the ruling as one might hope. Nothing in Obergefell addresses a person or corporation's right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination laws are a separate issue and as I write, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have on their books laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Practically that means LGBT clients can probably still be refused a spot in that amazing long-term care facility even though they can afford it and want to be there. And private employers, particularly religious ones like Hobby Lobby, may be able to deny spousal benefits to gay spouses.
It also remains to be seen how the discriminatory practices that affect a couple's ability to live, work, pay taxes and die in a state will be forced by this ruling to change.
Gay couples must still plan for issues that continue to vary state to state. These include whether both of their jobs are safe and secure; whether they can adopt a child from a religious organization; and whether they can visit their spouse in a private hospital. It remains unclear how this ruling, which speaks to what states can do when it comes to marriage, will affect what non-governmental entities can do when it comes to employment, healthcare and other issues that affect a family's financial plan.
Although this is clearly a huge step in the right direction, the struggle for equality is unfinished. And advisors working with gay couples will have to take into account these nuances in the legal landscape.
Joshua T. Hadfield Charles is a CFP Board Ambassador and founder of Financial-360, an independent wealth management firm affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services.
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