Because same-sex marriage is not legally recognized, gay and lesbian couples face numerous tax penalties not shared by their married heterosexual counterparts. One of the most distressing is the financial burden levied against them when their property changes hands after the death of a partner.
In the 1970s, California instituted certain protections that ensure a widow or widower wouldn’t be subject to the usual change-in-ownership reassessment of property tax if they were taking over the deed after their spouse’s death. (Similar protections exist for children and grandchildren.) To date same-sex couples haven’t benefited from this exemption.
But yesterday, the California State Senate passed AB 1700, which would equalize treatment of gay and straight couples in the transfer of property, by a margin of 34 to 1. The bill has already passed the Assembly, and now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
It’s not just a boon for gays and lesbians: The measure would protect any non-married Californian homeowners from paying the stiff taxes assessed when property is sold outright—siblings, straight unmarried couples, even friends. “This law protects co-owners of property who have purchased a home together and depend upon each other for financial support,” says Assemblymember Betsy Butler (D-53), who introduced the bill. “It is simply unfair to place an extra burden on homeowners who are not married when the death of a co-tenant endangers the ability of the survivor to stay in their home.”
Equality California board president Clarissa Filgioun thanked Butler for her efforts, commenting that “the loss of a beloved partner is devastating and should not come with the added burden of a dramatic increase in taxes for individuals on a fixed income or, worse, the trauma of losing of one’s home.”