Same-sex couples covered by financial protections offered by measure signed into law by president
Legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush on Aug. 17 drew praise from both ends of the political spectrum for providing new financial protections to more Americans, including same-sex couples.
The new law has two provisions of particular importance to gay and lesbian couples, according to Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
The first of these, called the “Non-Spousal Rollover,” allows for retirement plan benefits, such as 401(k) accounts and IRAs, to be transferred at an individual’s death to a nonspouse beneficiary such as a domestic partner, a sibling or any other designated individual.
In the past, Solmonese said, same-sex partners had been forced to withdraw the amount in such an account as a lump sum, thus facing immediate tax penalties which would diminish savings intended for retirement.
The second provision, called “Hardship Distribution,” will allow individuals who designate a same-sex partner or another non-spouse person as the beneficiary of their 401(k) to tap into their retirement funds in the case of certain medical or financial emergencies of the beneficiary. Previously, federal law allowed such withdrawals only for an individual’s legally designated spouse or dependent.
Solmonese called the bill a step forward in the battle for equality, and praised not only the bipartisan provisions in the legislation but also the efforts of the Human Rights Campaign which he said had led a continuous effort to get it passed.
“For gay couples and all Americans with non-spouse beneficiaries, death and taxes weren’t only certain, but also times of great amd unequal financial difficulty,” Solmonese said after the president signed the bill. “Today marks an important day for fairness under the law in America.”
The legislation was also applauded by the Christian Coalition of America, a conservative religious organizations usually at odds with the Human Rights Campaign.
In a written statement released Aug. 17, Roberta Combs, Christian Coalition chair, made no mention of same-sex couples’ inclusion in the Pension Protection Act, but she did commend the president for “signing this common sense bill into law.”
“With the signing of the pension reform legislation, American families will now gain a sense of well-being that their pensions will be there for them when they retire,” Combs said in her statement.
The president also did not mention the measure’s added protections that included same-sex couples in his remarks during the bill signing ceremony, focusing instead on the measure’s bipartisan support.
“I want to thank the House and the Senate for their good work on this vital legislation. It’s been hard work. It took a lot of pages to write that bill, as you can see,” the president said. “But the members did good work.”
Lawmakers from both the GOP and the Democratic Party called the Pension Protection Act an important step forward in statements made during the Aug. 17 signing ceremony at the White House. But they also said more needs to be done.
Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican of Oregon, said, “There is a large group of Americans that are left behind in traditional pension benefit models. We need to do better to keep these groups from falling through the cracks.”
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat of Maryland, agreed.
“We need to address the economic and legal barriers that affect many American families from providing equal access to family law, to equal opportunities in the workplace,” he said. “All families need to be able to plan and save for their futures.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 25, 2006.