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Question of the Day
It has been almost three years since Jeff Krehely took his vows in Massachusetts, but only Tuesday morning would he become a married man in the District. A law recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions was scheduled to take effect in the city at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, after a 30-day congressional review period expired.
The law will affect everything from tax filing, employer health care benefits, inheritance and hospital visitation rights to mundane activities, such as gym memberships and car rentals.
The mundane details were the ones that made Mr. Krehely, 32, an independent consultant, and Trevor Blake, 30, a lawyer, feel married. Shortly after their ceremony, the pair, who live in Northwest and took their vows in July 2006, got a discount reserved for married couples at a Massachusetts car-rental counter.
“That kind of stuff, it really matters — wills and inheritance rights, making sure that the laws reflect what our relationship is. It feels good to have the place you live do that, and makes the life you live easier,” Mr. Krehely said.
But the full effect of legal recognition remains unclear. And so does the number of residents who benefit.
Recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions strengthens many rights that were already in place with the District’s Health Benefits Expansion Act of 1992, which allowed gay couples to register as domestic partners and receive some of the same benefits afforded to married couples.
The act, which did not go into effect until 2002 because implementation was blocked by Congress, has been amended over the years to offer additional benefits that allow same-sex couples to make medical decisions on each other’s behalf, to benefit from hospital visitation rights and to file taxes jointly, among other things.
Before the holiday weekend, the District had not issued a statement to same-sex couples about their new rights. The D.C. Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs is working to release tip sheets and fact sheets, and D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles has requested that all government agencies review their policies so that implementation can proceed as smoothly and timely as possible, a spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said.
The U.S. Census Bureau lists 3,839 same-sex couples as residing in the District, according to 2005-2007 data. And the nearly 33,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people — single and coupled — living in the District made up approximately 8.1 percent of the city’s total adult population in 2005.
However, there is no way to determine how many gay couples might be legally married in other jurisdictions, according to Gary J. Gates, a demographer with the William Institute at the UCLA School of Law and author of the Gay and Lesbian Atlas.
Julie Verratti, 29, a third-year student at the George Washington University Law School, and Emily Bruno, 27, an employee at the State Department, were married in California on June 20, 2008, before California residents voted in November to again prohibit same-sex marriage there. They reside in Cleveland Park and have lived together in the District since the summer of 2007.
Ms. Verratti said that it has been more difficult, as a lesbian couple, to save up to buy a house because of higher expenses, a lack of domestic-partnership benefits for spouses of federal government employees and ineligibility for tax credits available to families and those repaying student loans. She said she hopes the law will make financial planning easier for families like theirs.
“We want to save and buy a house, just like everybody else, but I have to save and take out extra money because I can’t be put on Emily’s insurance” she said.
But as long as same-sex marriage is banned at the federal level, gay couples will be subject to different financial standards.
“Even though D.C. may be recognizing same-sex couples who are married, the issue is the interplay with that and what is happening at the federal level,” said Joe Kapp, past president of the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and a financial planner in Bethesda.
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