To qualify for the benefits, partners must share a common residence and show evidence of financial interdependence. Couples may be the same sex or of the opposite sex, but opposite-sex couples qualify only if they are older than 62, when the potential reduction in retirement benefits may act as a financial deterrent to marriage.
Immediately following the November ruling on gay marriage by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, both the state’s governor, Mitt Romney, and Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran were searching for a compromise on civil unions that would stop short of marriage. The state senate asked the court for clarification, requesting an advisory opinion on whether legislating civil unions for same-sex couples would satisfy the terms of the ruling, but the court responded in February by rejecting the idea. Legislators were scheduled to meet later in February to discuss a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, like the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The amendment could not become part of the constitution until 2006. “The court, in essence, has given the legislature the opportunity to do something before the ruling is to become effective,” says Alfred A. Gray, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig LLP in Boston. Ultimately, if lawmakers do nothing before the May deadline, the court will mandate the issuance of marriage licenses to gay applicants.