Blog by Jason S. Ansel

The start of 2015 came with some very exciting news for our neighbours down in the sunshine state. Florida has officially become the 36th State to recognize and allow same sex couples to marry.

This new development became official less than one week into 2015 when a federal judge’s stay on a ruling overturning the state’s ban on marriage equality expired.

This expiration deadline was being closely watched and as a result many marriage certificates were being handed out in counties around the State in advance of the official deadline.

Overview of Marriage Equality Rulings

The origins of this historic event can be traced back through many cases and challenges over the years. However, little did more to advance this cause than the June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which stated that fundamental sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were unconstitutional. It is very likely that this DOMA ruling is what catapulted the country to where they are today. In the last year alone it has become legal for same sex couples to marry in 20 additional states across the U.S. Federal court judges from all over the country have struck down bans on same sex marriage, and not just in the blue states. Republican appointed judges have also struck down these bans since the U.S Supreme Court ruling on DOMA.

There is no questioning that support for same sex marriage has greatly increased over the years and as the public continues to demand equality, it will hopefully not be long until the remaining states follow suit. However, the Courts must continue to take a stand. On January 23, 2015, U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade, a judge who was appointed by Republican president George W. Bush, struck down Alabama’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying. As recently as February 3, 2015 the Alabama Attorney General’s motion for a stay in the ruling was denied by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Failing a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court same sex couples will begin to marry in Alabama as early as February 9, 2015.

On January 16, 2015 the U.S Supreme Court agreed to hear cases from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee all pertaining to the States banning the marriage of same sex couples. This means that the highest and most powerful court in the United States will be asked to rule on whether a state has a constitutional right to discriminate and deny same sex couple the right to marry and refuse to recognize same sex marriages performed in jurisdiction where they are legal.

Tax and Estate Planning Opportunities for Same Sex Couples

Not only would granting same sex couples the right to marry be a huge step forward in human rights, it would also provide the security and advantages that comes with being legally married. Same sex couples will be afforded the same tax benefits as other married couples. They will be able to file joint tax returns, benefit from spousal trusts, estate tax deferrals and exemption rates. This will open the door for a range of estate planning opportunities for same sex couples and provide them with benefits that other couples have been receiving for years.

Cross Border Tax and Estate Planning Opportunities for Same Sex Canadian Couples

These rulings will also have an impact on Canadians buying and owning properties. Now that Florida recognizes same sex marriages, a same sex couple can now take title of property as “a married couple”. This will not only avoid probate when one spouse passes away, but also provides creditor protection on the property for the debts of your spouse. Same sex Canadian couples who have a U.S. estate tax exposure will now also benefit from tax deferrals upon the passing of the first spouse, as well as the ability to double up on the worldwide exemption rate, potentially avoiding U.S. estate tax all together.

This provides an opportunity for Canadian same sex couples to deal with their cross border tax and estate issues of owning U.S. real estate. They can now benefit from the same cross border tax and estate planning tools that married couples have been using for years.

It is great to see Florida make such huge progress with these new developments and it will be exciting to see where the rest of the United States stands as 2015 unfolds.