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Can Gay Spouses Have Spousal IRAs?

Periodically, I get search hits for the guest post on spousal IRAs for SAHMs (or other spouses who don’t bring in traditional income). Only the searchers are more interested in whether or not a gay spouse can have a spousal IRA.

The answer is no. Not even if you’re married in Massachusetts or (soon?) California. While the US government allows states to come up with their own specific marriage laws, the “Defense of Marriage Act” inserted this little bugger into federal law:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

Preemptive strike by the Right against gay couples ever having equal rights, even if they’re married. Am I the only one who feels like this was a really mean thing to do?

What it essentially means is that while you may be married, you can only be a “spouse” for federal law and thus can only have the Spousal IRA if you’re the opposite sex from your spouse. So if you’re the same sex as your spouse, you can’t have one.

Fortunately, you’re still your own person and therefore you should be able to have a Roth IRA, as long as you earn the money that goes into it. Pain in the butt for full-time parents (hence the benefits of the Spousal IRA), but since the limit is $4000 $5000/year unless you’re almost at retirement, if you can earn that you can contribute.

Not being recognized by the federal government is a potential advantage here, if your spouse makes too much for you to have a Roth IRA. Because they don’t recognize the marriage, your spouse’s earnings won’t exclude you from contributing. It doesn’t really mitigate the other disadvantages, but it may help you save for retirement.

For more on Roth IRAs, I’d suggest checking out Chance Favors, which has pretty much everything you need to know. And for more on GLBTQ finance, try visiting Queercents, an excellent group blog which covers personal finance and career from a variety of viewpoints.

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Why gay marriage matters, in just one tiny personal finance detail | Penny For My Thoughts
June 16, 2008 at 9:56 pm


Miranda May 20, 2008 at 12:03 pm

I agree that it is mean. This is why the state needs to be out of the “marriage” business altogether. Instead, everyone gets civil unions so that it is possible to designate beneficiaries and better arrange financial matters. Let religions deal with whom they will allow to marry.

Heidi May 20, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Well, that sucks.

I agree with Miranda – joint tenantship should be a concern of the state, not the church. I’m 100% on board for civil unions (I have actually considered postponing my own wedding until gay marriage is recognizedand legal).

mrsmicah May 20, 2008 at 2:40 pm

@Miranda & Heidi,

One thing Micah and I did when we got married was split our wedding between state and church. First, we took out a civil license and were married at the courthouse (on our 5th anniversary) and then 2 days later we had an unlicensed church wedding.

We saw the first as registering as a couple with the state for various tax and whatnot purchases. And we saw the second as a religious/community decision….which we considered our real wedding.

PK May 20, 2008 at 3:51 pm

First, the limit is $5000 this year. Second, my friends are a couple that are currently the same sex, but have all the rights and privileges of a normal marriage. How? because they were married before he had his sex change.

Frugal Chick May 20, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Wow, I didn’t know that. I believe gay couples should be afforded equal rights as heterosexual couples.

At least there’s still the Roth IRA until this sucky federal law gets changed. And lets hope that it will change soon.

Greener Pastures May 20, 2008 at 5:59 pm

Thanks for a great article Mrs Micah. It’s articles like this that help educate many people who have no idea what it means tobe denied the privileges of marriage. Another big federal benefit lost is with social security. The surviving partner gets none of their spouse’s benefit.

Taxes are a pain as well.


Funny about Money May 22, 2008 at 12:45 am

flicking outrage, is what it is!

Can you gift a partner with a direct contribution to a Roth IRA? What would happen if you gave the person, say, $2,000 by contributing it directly to his or her Roth?

I did this for my son when he graduated from college. But then, you can give a chunk of dough to kids and grand-kids with no tax consequences. I wonder what would happen if you just quietly contributed xx thousand a year to a partner’s Roth IRA? I’m not sure you have to earn the specific dollars that go into it; you just have to BE earning to be eligible to have a Roth IRA.

mrsmicah May 22, 2008 at 8:13 am

@Funny, I think the limit is that you can’t put more in than you’ve earned. But it doesn’t have to be the same money…it’s just that if the partner earns $3000, they can’t put in $5000.

July Bucks May 28, 2008 at 10:01 am

I totally agree that this is mean. Moreover church has nothing to do with joint tenantship. Luckily, there is the Roth IRA, though it’s obviously far from beneficial.

Hedy June 11, 2008 at 5:54 pm


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