Financial equality still eludes married gays

Phyllis Siegel, 76, right, kisses her wife Connie Kopelov, 84, after exchanging vows at the Manhattan City Clerk's office on July 24, 2011.
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This was an historic day in New York State, the first day that same-sex couples could legally be married in the sixth and largest state to recognize the ceremony.

More than 1,000 couples rushed to take advantage, but winning recognition from the federal government remains elusive.

CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports that there are an estimated 50,000 legally married gay and lesbian couples in the United States.

That was before New York State began allowing gay marriages on Sunday, but for many of those couples, marriage equality does not mean financial equality.

Couples celebrate first gay marriages in N.Y.

Claudia Bruce and Linda Mussman, together for 35 years, didn't waste a minute, timing their vows to be married seconds after it became legal in New York State at midnight.

"You know, you go to the hospital here and there, and you know, there's the paper: 'single,' 'married,' 'divorced,' or 'widowed.' And there's no place for anything else," Claudia says.

In New York City, 823 same-sex couples registered to marry Sunday. Daniel Hernandez and Nevin Cohen were among them.

While they may now have equal civil rights in New York State, they are not when it comes to income taxes, inheriting a spouse's social security benefits, and family medical leave, because federal law does not recognize gay marriage.

"There's even one case with a spouse of a veteran who's not entitled to be buried next to their spouse," says Brad Sears, executive director of Williams Institute at UCLA Law School.

Sears also says gay couples cannot file a joint federal tax return, adding that "in some cases, same-sex couples are going to pay more federal taxes."

Some companies are phasing out "domestic partner" benefits in states where gay marriage is legal, and requiring gay employees to be married to keep their health coverage.

"There's not really a change in philosophy, the domestic partner benefit typically was put in to be fair, because they did not have the option of marriage," says Helen Darling with the National Business Group on Health

In New York City today, protesters were scarce, but that shouldn't mislead anyone. Across the country, gay marriage is still the exception, not the rule. Only six states, and Washington, D.C, allow gay marriage - meaning 44 states do not.

"We are very much opposed to the idea of gay marriage in any state," said Bill Donahue of the Catholic League, adding that most of America agrees with him.

"In 31 states in the United States, they've asked the people in a ballot initiative - 'do you believe in gay marriage?' Our side - traditional marriage - has won 31 out of 31," Donahue says.

The next battlegrounds over gay marriage may well be Maryland and Rhode Island, but that's for another day, because for hundreds of couples in New York, this day was for celebration.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.