Gary Chalmers and Richard Linnell of Northbridge, Mass., celebrated their anniversary at Disneyland, cried on daughter Paige's first day of kindergarten, and watched her fret over what to wear for her first middle-school dance. But after 15 years together, they weren't considered a family by the state. The financial effect? Chalmers and Linnell spent more than $5,000 a year on insurance and legal papers that a heterosexual married couple didn't need.
These inequalities should end now that the Massachusetts supreme judicial court has ordered that gay and lesbian couples be permitted to marry beginning May 17. Those who do will enjoy financial breaks on everything from state pensions to fishing licenses--just like straight married couples. "It's every area of life and death, from matters profound to matters paltry," says Mary Bonauto, the lead attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, who argued the case on behalf of Chalmers and Linnell and six other couples.
An estimated 8,500 Massachusetts same-sex couples are expected to marry in the next few years after licenses become available to them, according to an analysis by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C. Same-sex couples will be able to sue for the wrongful death of a spouse, file state income taxes jointly, and receive health care benefits, and same sex spouses of deceased state employees will be able to collect pensions. The ruling also means that gay couples qualify for additional protection against losing their houses to creditors, says John LeBlanc, a certified financial planner at Back Bay Financial Group in Boston.
After he marries Chalmers, Linnell will no longer need a separate health insurance policy that has cost $3,840 a year. He will be covered by the family policy through Chalmers' employer. If Chalmers were to die, his state-governed pension--80% of his $68,000 schoolteacher's salary--will go to Linnell. Before the marriage ruling, Linnell would have received only 10%.
Like Linnell and Chalmers, many gay married couples will save money immediately on health insurance, says M.V. Lee Badgett, associate professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Experts expect that employers who offer benefits to spouses of heterosexual employees will cover same sex spouses too. Troy Golladay and Chuck Colbert of Cambridge, Mass., will save $6,000 a year on Colbert's health insurance. "If we were legally married, [my employer] would be obligated to offer those benefits," says Golladay, a marketing manager for Hallmark Cards. …