This month marks the third anniversary of marriage equality being extended to same-sex couples throughout the United States, a process that took decades to come to fruition through various actions at the state level, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court's Windsor decision in 2013 and the Obergefell decision in 2015.
Prior to the landmark decision in 2015, financial planners faced a gauntlet of challenges trying to guide their clients when couples were essentially treated as legal strangers. Workaround strategies were the norm for couples who took action, even if the methods and results were often imperfect.
Marriage offers more than 1,000 federal and state benefits to couples and, more importantly, the peace of mind they have knowing their unions are recognized. It makes all the effort and angst over the years worth it.
But while there is much to celebrate when it comes to marriage equality, including how it has made life a bit easier for the LGBTQ community and planners who guide them, many challenges remain. And by all accounts, we are still a long way from fully addressing most of the financial challenges faced by this growing demographic. Some that come to mind include:
• A lack of federal standards against discrimination in job, housing and public accommodations that has been persistent for decades. For example, an employee who signs their spouse up for employee benefits is essentially "outing" themselves to their employer. This could potentially subject him or her to tacit job discrimination and the loss of employment. While the employee might no longer have to pay taxes on the economic benefit of enrolling their spouse for health insurance, for example, there could be other financial costs and instability for the couple and their family.
• Challenges in local jurisdictions around the offering of various goods and services to LGBTQ families.
• Challenges facing couples in which one spouse is not a U.S. citizen and how that couple might be treated.
• Difficulties for LGBTQ families around adoption rules, limitations and obstacles that are being put in front of these families in states across the country.
A ROLE FOR PLANNERS
Every American demographic faces unique challenges when it comes to finances, but it seems that the challenges facing the LGBTQ community are unnecessarily complex. What we know is that until there is true equality, many LGBTQ individuals and families appreciate the sensitivity that comes with working with financial planners who understand these unique challenges and can provide a safe and comfortable space for interaction with their clients. This is where the financial planning community can help.
Since 1999, PridePlanners, an association of financial planners serving the gay and lesbian community, has been proud to offer resources, educational conferences, webinars and networking opportunities to financial planners who work with LGBTQ individuals, couples and families. As PridePlanners' reputation grew and as the financial considerations of LGBTQ Americans have drawn more interest from the public, local and national journalists have sought out members of PridePlanners to provide more depth for articles on LGBTQ financial planning topics.
Over the past decade, PridePlanners has maintained a strong, collaborative relationship with the Financial Planning Association, the largest membership association for CFP professionals. This relationship helped expand PridePlanners' reach to the larger financial planning community, including conferences that coincided with FPA annual conferences in 2013 and 2015. FPA has tapped into the PridePlanners community over the years as a source for expert speakers at conferences and other educational events, and PridePlanners has represented the LGBTQ planning community on the FPA Diversity Committee to provide perspective and direction as FPA continues to open doors to planners who work with a variety of diverse clients and communities.
One of the greatest characteristics of the financial planning profession — especially among its individuals — is the profound interest we have in helping underserved populations gain access to competent financial planning advice. That is why we are thrilled that PridePlanners has fully integrated with FPA. Through this new integration, we will be positioned to help practitioners better understand the financial challenges faced by the LGBTQ community so they are prepared to assist this growing American demographic.
We call on all our peers to take the time to learn about these issues so they are prepared to help those who need it. June may be Pride Month and a time for LGBTQ individuals and families to celebrate equality, but every month should be a time when all Americans — no matter their race, creed, gender or sexual orientation — should be able to get equal access to financial planning advice. We hope you join us in making that possible.
Frank Paré is the 2018 president of the Financial Planning Association and Stuart H. Armstrong is a past board member of PridePlanners and a past board member of FPA.