Although the fight for marriage equality has been on-going for years, the realistic implications when it came to the law were somewhat limited until recently. Due to the increasing number of states recognizing the marriages and the Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the dialogue within the legal community concerning same-sex marriage has significantly broadened.
DOMA was passed in 1996, prohibiting the federal government from recognizing any same-sex marriages. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize marriage and, over the next decade, 18 other states and the District of Columbia followed. As the states continue to recognize marriage, there are significant state implications regarding all family law matters, such as child custody, adoption, divorce and spousal support. However, due to DOMA, the federal government would not recognize these marriages, which significantly affected social security pensions, veteran’s benefits and benefits for spouses of federal employees.
Finally, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional. The decision affects many important areas of law that never applied to same-sex couples including federal spousal protections for military personal, veterans, Medicare recipients, social security recipients, and civilian federal employees. Additionally, there are implications when it comes to Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), bankruptcy, taxes, and immigration.
This is an extraordinary victory for the LGBTQ community. However, it is also a complicated new addition to an already complicated area of law. For example, what happens when a couple, from a state which does not recognize gay marriage, goes out-of-state to marry? Their marriage is now recognized for federal law purposes, such as tax. However, it is not legal under their home states laws regulating divorce, custody and property division. This conflict between state and federal law is a question yet to be resolved.
Thirty-one states still ban gay marriage and, based on history, it may take several more decades to reach full equality. In the meantime, there are many questions on how the courts will deal with the state/federal conflict.
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Authored by Nicole Shoener, staff writer for LegalMatch.