Gay spouses face financial hurdles - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Gay spouses face financial hurdles

(CNN) - Same-sex partners can tie the knot in six states, but they should remember that in the eyes of the federal government they are not legally married. This can cause financial problems.

For many gay couples in New York, the last few weeks have been filled with celebration. In June, New York became the sixth and largest state to legalize gay marriage.

"Marriage equality is very good for morale in New York State; however, it doesn't change a lot of the laws that affect us," said certified financial planner Ellen DeSarno.

DeSarno said the biggest roadblock for gay couples is the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

Same-sex married couples don't get many of the federal tax breaks that straight married couples get.

Gay couples still can't file joint federal tax returns, share retirement benefits, or combine their money freely.

"Heterosexuals that marry, it's recognized at a federal level, they have the ability to give each other unlimited gifts and inherit unlimited amounts from each other. I can't give my partner more than $13,000 a year without it being a taxable gift," DeSarno said.

Ralph Gilmartin and Bill Herbst have been together nearly 30 years, and plan to marry in November. They own their apartment together, but have questions about their financial rights.

"The state tax questions is going to be the big issue," Gilmartin said. "We have to go back and maybe dismantle or rethink, or reallocate because we're not sure what these things are going to do."

There are other state benefits.  As long as couples continue to live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, rights may include health insurance and some pension benefits for spouses.

Gilmartin and Herbst said the right to finally say "I do" far outweighs the financial headaches that may lie ahead.    

Gay couples should also keep in mind once they wed they'll assume liability for their spouse's debt.  

And when it comes to divorce, same-sex married couples, just like straight couples who split will have to pay alimony.  

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