According to the American Community Survey, 272,493 residents of New York City identify themselves as homosexuals, ranking the city as having the highest gay population in the United States.
At the same time, there are an estimated 42,600 same-sex couples in New York, as reported by the same survey in 2009; of whom 21%, nearly 9,000, are already legally married, as also reported by Williams Institute/Harris Interactive Same-sex Couple Survey in 2010. Surveys also point out that 7,200 same-sex couples in New York are raising about 14,000 children. For decades, same-sex couples were not able to receive the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples.
Last Friday, New York State made same-sex marriage legal, making New York the largest state to allow and recognize marriages for gay and lesbian couples. The law will take effect by the end of July, granting same-sex married couples with various legal rights and financial benefits.
Now, like heterosexual couples, homosexual couples who marry and live in New York State will be able to file their state tax returns jointly. Married couples with lower incomes will end up paying less in taxes. “There are hundreds of different protections and benefits under New York law,” said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, a legal advocacy organization for the gay community. Amongst many legal rights that same-sex couples will gain is the right to be first in line to inherit their spouses’ assets, even if there is no will.
Though gay and lesbian couples have gained more rights than they ever had with this single piece of legislation, they are still not on equal footing with heterosexual couples. Since federal law declares that marriage is between man and a woman, married gay couples in New York will still have to file their federal taxes separately. Also, they will owe extra income taxes on health insurance benefits that straight couples do not have to pay.
But for right now, many couples are elated that they get to formalize and legalize their relationships through marriage.
At the gay pride parade in New York City on Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I believe New York has sent a message to this Nation loud and clear: It is time for marriage equality all across this country.” In the near future, gay couples all across the United States may experience the benefits that New Yorkers are currently experiencing.
by Ilana Greene