For same-sex couples in Florida, the opportunity for marriage offers not only equality, but also a chance to have greater economic and health benefits.
Married couples enjoy benefits that, until this year, same-sex couples in Florida had not been able to experience.
Jim Weaver and Rich Baumiester, from New Port Richey, Florida, have been waiting 22 years for the benefits that come with marriage. It is only now, after same-sex marriage legalization in Florida on Jan. 6, that they have been given the opportunity.
“The only thing we have for us right now is that we both have wills naming each other as beneficiaries,” Weaver said. “We name each other as beneficiaries on things like life insurance policies all with the hope that it should be enough if one of us passes away.”
Weaver, a mail carrier, and Baumiester, a meeting and event planner, will be getting married on Aug. 29. They anticipate being able to see each other in the hospital should one of them get hurt.
“Not that we’ve ever encountered a problem, but we’ve heard of people who, not being married, are not viewed as immediate family and were denied visitation,” Baumiester said. “We don’t have to worry about not having a say in the care of each other, and we’ll know that won’t happen to us.”
Maritha van der Walt and her partner, Stephanie Shawn Woodworth moved to Gainesville, Florida at the end of 2012 to get away from the snow because Woodworth has a prosthetic leg, which makes it difficult to walk in snow.
Although they were considered married in New Hampshire after a civil union ceremony, they lost benefits when they moved. Van der Walt can now put Woodworth on her health insurance plan.
“Married couples have a lot of money saving benefits,” Van der Walt, a registered nurse, said. “Because we are considered a married couple, I can add her to my insurance, which is wonderful, which saved us money.”
Before legalization in Florida, couples like Van der Walt and Woodworth, who got married in other states, were considered to be in domestic partnerships.
Florida Attorney Mary Merrell Bailey said people in domestic partnerships are unable to inherit their partner’s homestead or qualify for “tenants by the entirety” property, which allows married couples assets of protection for their homes. Couples in domestic partnerships also are unable to own a joint brokerage account or plan each others funeral arrangements.
Not all counties in Florida offered domestic partnership benefits before same-sex marriage legalization, she said, but even if a couple lived in a county that allowed benefits, they would not get much.
“It depended on where the couple lived if they could register as domestic partners,” she said, “but those benefits are nothing like the benefits of marriage. Marriage as a legal construct is a very powerful status, and the other statuses are not nearly as powerful.”
Bailey, a member of the Central Florida Gay and Lesbian Law Association, said most of the benefits Florida gives to married people could be constructed as documents with the help of an attorney, but it could end up costing both time and money.
She gave an example of a couple that got married before the law change. If one partner died, the other partner wold not automatically inherit the land. Bailey would be able to create an estate plan and a will or trust so the other spouse would inherit everything, but it would not happen automatically.
She said there are also benefits that cannot be attained through creating documents.
“No matter what documents I have, I cannot achieve ‘tenants by entirety’ status,” she said.
With the law passed, new doors have opened for Weaver and Baumiester. They benefit from marriage legalization because they can now get federal spousal employment benefits from Weaver’s job as a mail carrier.
“It’s less exciting for me than it is a relief,” Weaver said. “To have been together as long as we have and the only thing we had for us to recognize us was our wills — it will be a relief to, in the eyes of the law, be a couple.”’
Weaver and Baumiester will also be able to name each other as retirement beneficiaries, get an exemption from inheritance tax and save on property taxes.
Van der Walt said she’s grateful for all of the opportunities she has now because of the legalization.
“It helped us financially, definitely, and for the future, if anything should happen to us,” she said. “There’s more justice. We can proxy each other and have the power of attorney.”