Equity means treating similarly situated individuals equally. But how do you do that, exactly, when it comes to gay or lesbian couples who do not receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples under federal law?

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for several years. The federal government, however, does not recognize these marriages. This means that homosexual couples who are legally married in Massachusetts do not receive the same benefits that straight married couples do in certain areas. This affects matters that include Social Security survivors’ benefits, family and medical leave, and the right to file joint tax returns.

The federal recognition issue recently became an issue in Cambridge, where some city and public school workers who chose to put their same-sex spouses on their health insurance were facing taxation by the federal government. The value of those health insurance benefits is not taxable to heterosexual married couples.

The city council in Cambridge did not think that was fair. So the council voted to grant stipends to same-sex city employees to cover the cost of the federal tax. “This is about equality,” said city council member Marjorie Decker.

Another council member, Leland Cheung, agreed. “This is ultimately a fairness issue. Two people who do the exact same job should be paid exactly the same for what they are doing at work,” he said.

Conservative groups, such as the Massachusetts Family Institute, expressed concern with the Cambridge policy. But it is unclear how long the federal disapproval of same-sex marriage will continue. In fact, last winter President Obama ordered the U.S. Justice Department to no longer defend the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Source: “Cambridge, Massachusetts to Pay Wedded Gay Workers to Offset Tax,” Huffington Post, 7-10-11