BOSTON, Mass—In November 2011 Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill that may have a big impact on gay and lesbian workers who retired on or before May 17, 2004 from government employment.
“An Act Providing for Pension Reform and Benefit Modernization” contains provisions significant to some same-sex married couples where one spouse is a government retiree. The new law allows retirees to switch to Option C in their retirement plan if they 1) retired under Chapter 32 of Mass General Laws on or before May 17, 2004, AND 2) later married a person of the same sex on or before May 17, 2005. The change would be effective to their retirement date.
The change was made because long-time gay and lesbian couples, retiring on or before May 17, 2004 and thus unable to marry, could not have chosen a joint retirement annuity. Chapter 32 covers most Massachusetts state, county, and municipal employees, including public school teachers.
What is Option C and why does it matter? Although Option C (as opposed to A or B) generally results in about a 9-11% decrease in annual income for the retiree, it also allows for a spouse to continue receiving a monthly retirement income if the retiree dies first. This is of paramount importance to government retirees who want to ensure that their spouses are provided for no matter what happens.
The law went into effect on February 16, 2012, and the deadline for applying for this change in benefits is July 1, 2012. Many retirement boards may still be developing applications for this purpose. Retirees should contact their particular retirement boards to find out when applications will be available, and to get further information about how monthly income will be adjusted and about required repayment amounts.
To see, as an example, the explanation and application from the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System go to http://1.usa.gov/yz0QOR.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is New England’s leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.