To Wed or To Wait—The Decision Can Get Complicated
In the memorable words of Beyonce, “If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.”
Well, John and I at least accomplished that much with an exchange of wedding bands and vows over a good bottle of wine in an un-witnessed ceremony at home. But we still don’t have a document on file with a marriage-equality state or a certificate suitable for framing.
When I wrote the CAMP Talk column that appeared in the previous issue of Letters, I was confident that the only thing that could stop John and me from becoming legally married in Delaware last month would be a major hurricane swirling up the east coast. It actually took something a lot less ferocious to detour us.
Just days before our scheduled courthouse ceremony, with packed luggage ready to roll, we had a rude awakening concerning the impact a legal marriage would have on our personal finances. The particular penalty we faced would apply to relatively few of you (only couples in which one spouse is over 65 years old and the other is younger—and the younger partner is seeking health insurance via the new Affordable Care Act exchanges). Because the situation applies to so few couples, I won’t go into details here, but if you think you might be affected feel free to email me and I’ll explain.
Anyway, we discovered that getting married at this time would cost us dearly. As much as we had looked forward to having an official document to recognize our four-plus decades together, we quickly agreed to make the fiscally wise decision. So we have postponed our civil marriage until such time that the price we have to pay is less cumbersome. The formula could change if Social Security spousal benefits become available to us in Florida, and it will change once John becomes old enough for Medicare.
Although we are disappointed and a bit embarrassed, John and I are content with our decision and confident in our love for and commitment to one another. We raised our glasses, toasted ourselves and slipped on our shiny new wedding rings, which we wear everywhere. (We also registered for our local domestic partnership registry as one more step in securing joint medical and legal rights.)
As my 90-year-old mother said on the phone when I called to tell her of the delay of our wedding, “Everybody who loves you knows you’re married anyway. You don’t need a piece of paper to make it so.”
My advice to all same-sex couples who plan to marry: Before ordering your wedding cake, consult a trusted financial adviser who understands each of your situations and who is thoroughly up-to-date on the fast-changing laws regarding taxes, government benefits, and health-care insurance.
In recent weeks, John and I have seen many of our Florida friends make opposite decisions about whether to get married right away. Most of the couples we know are taking a wait-and-see attitude as they study the tax implications of joint filing and/or the effect of combined income in determining the cost of healthcare insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Some couples are split on what to do, which is particularly frustrating for the partner who is eager to wed.
On the other hand, our neighbors Jack and Lamin are traveling to Rehoboth this month for an autumn wedding on the beach, and our friends Bruce and Rick just returned from being married in Hagerstown, MD. As we celebrated with Bruce and Rick at a post-wedding dinner party the other night, we shared a laugh while reminiscing about the “Podunk town” we used to call Hagersbush: Thirty years ago, if anyone had predicted that homosexual couples someday would be able to legally marry in Hagerstown, we would have wondered what kind of wacky weed they were on.
Still, for all the celebrations and exhilaration, many same-sex couples, especially those of us who live in non-marriage-equality states, are faced with uncertainty—or in some cases outright confusion—about how a wedding would affect their lives.
A couple of weeks before their trip to Hagerstown, Bruce and Rick told me that the biggest reason they wanted to get married after 25 years together was so they could qualify for Social Security spousal benefits. They were stunned when I informed them that at this time those benefits have been approved only for same-sex married couples who live in marriage-equality states. The looks on their faces were ones of horror. They had entirely missed that part of the news story about Social Security benefits for gay couples. After talking it over, they decided to go forward with their marriage because Bruce recently accepted an overseas work assignment, and they won’t have much time together in this country for the next two years. By then, they hope they will be eligible for full marital benefits. I hope so, too.
Another couple recently told me their busy work schedules won’t allow them to go north, but they were planning to invite a minister friend in Massachusetts to fly down to Florida to marry them this winter. They were surprised when I informed them that the marital partners must physically be in a state for it to license their union.
Doing one’s homework is critical in making a wise decision about a matter as permanent as marriage. And from anecdotal evidence I sense that some couples are rushing to the courthouse without doing adequate research as to how it works and what it means.
The confusion is sort of like many people’s presumptions about the new healthcare law. A surprising number of Americans say they vigorously disapprove of Obamacare but very much like The Affordable Care Act. Jimmy Kimmel recently did a hilarious (if it were not so sad) set of man-on-the-street interviews in which citizens tried to explain the non-existent differences between the two. (You can catch the video on YouTube.)
Passion often trumps knowledge in American society. Let’s all try to make sure that our decisions on whether to marry include both. Let’s also keep in mind that, whatever our legal status, love conquers all.
Next issue: Our Delaware wedding and how to prepare for one. Email Bill Sievert