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SCOTUS on Prop 8 and DOMA: The Financial Implications

Social Security survivor's benefits will also come into play.

"A huge portion of old people rely on social security," Weisbach said. "And gay people are not married for social security purposes."

Under the program as it currently stands, a surviving husband or wife is entitled to half of a spouse's Social Security benefits upon death. As with the marriage bonus, this is a major issue for couples where one spouse has historically worked or earned considerably more than the other. A partner who did not work might still depend upon a spouse for income.

As the law stands now, since all gay couples are merely cohabitating rather than married for the purposes of the federal Social Security program, if the spouse collecting benefits dies the other will be left with nothing at all. By contrast, straight couples at least have the comfort of knowing they will not be left destitute.

That could change, however, if the coming hearings convince the court. If gay marriage is recognized by the federal government or U.S. Constitution, spouses will be able to take advantage of all the benefits offered to married couples regardless of the sex of a partner.

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