Arizona same-sex couples a step closer to receiving federal benefits

June 26, 2013

After Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, married same-sex couples in Arizona are one step closer to receiving the same federal benefits afforded to heterosexual couples, but uncertainty remains, and any changes will take awhile.

This morning, Melanie Puskar-Blakely and her wife Tonya Blakely cheered the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that struck down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act. The ruling effectively grants married same-sex couples access to more than 1000 federal benefits currently available to married heterosexual couples.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Arizona, but the couple married in San Diego almost five years ago. Now they live in Glendale, Ariz. with their four kids.

The couple woke up early on Wednesday morning to get the news.

"I was nervous waiting for it," said Puskar-Blakely, who is the chair of the local LGBT rights group, Human and Equal Rights Organization. "And as it came through, it was a mixture of emotions, it was like 'Yay!', and then at the same time, 'Oh.' Because we live in Arizona, and so it only means so much for us. But it is a step in the right direction."

Arizona does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and Wednesday's rulings will not change that.

That left Puskar-Blakely wondering on Wednesday whether she would be able to get federal benefits, such as the right to file a joint federal tax return or spousal benefits from social security, while living in Arizona.

Jennifer Pizer of Lamda Legal said access to federal benefits will vary by state.

"For couples who are legally married and live in states that recognize their marriages, its very clear that the federal government is going to honor their marriages and treat then just like all over married couples," Pizer said. "For couples who live in states like Arizona it is a little bit more complicated."

For example, the IRS usually only recognizes a couple as married for tax purposes if their home state does, too. Pizer said that should change.

"There will need to be some rule changes, some processes, and in some cases even some regulations changed by the Obama administration before married same sex couples living in a state like Arizona can be treated equally under federal law," Pizer said.

Pizer said it is hard to predict how long such changes could take to go through and said there could be some programs that remain unavailable to same-sex couples in states like Arizona.

"We don't know exactly what it is going to look like with respect to all the different programs," Pizer said. "But with respect to most of the programs, we think equality will be provided within federal benefits."

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