Same-Sex Marriage Laws

The laws governing same-sex marriage have been shifting as of late, and these changes have made it absolutely crucial that people stay abreast of the laws in their own states. After all, these laws are different from one state to the next, rather than being set by the federal government. For years, the trend was that same-sex marriages were illegal, with a few exceptions -— such as California and Massachusetts —- but the recent changes have begun swinging things in the opposite direction, with more and more states approving these marriages.

DOMA and the Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Same-sex marriages were originally banned back in 1996, as part of the Defense of Marriage Act -— commonly known as DOMA. Two of the major points in this act were that the federal government could not make same-sex marriages legal on the state level and that marriages could only be between a man and a woman.

Perhaps the largest impact, though, was that the act gave states the power to ignore a lawful same-sex marriage if it was performed somewhere else. For example, if a couple was living in California and they decided to get married before moving to Texas, the law in Texas did not have to consider them an official couple. This drastically changed the way that they could do many things that opposite-sex couples enjoyed, from making wills to applying for government benefits to both being listed on the birth certificate for a child.

Rapid-Fire Changes

The changes have been coming at an unprecedented rate, however, in the last few years. 

The Impact on Divorce

One area where things can get very complicated is when it comes to divorce. Since some states still do not recognize same-sex unions, they also do not have to allow already married couples to get divorced. Since they are not considered to be married in the first place, the divorce cannot move forward, and the couples will not be seen by a judge or a divorce court. This is also something that will change as the laws do, but it has created a number of very complicated situations, especially as they pertain to child custody hearings, child support, the division of assets, and more. As can be seen, the battle for same-sex marriage rights is important not just to those who want to tie the knot, but to those seeking a lawful and equal dissolution of their marriages.

Federal Involvement

Though the Federal Government does not set the laws at the state level, it has been involved in certain aspects of the same-sex marriage debate. Filing federal tax forms with the IRS could be complicated for a married couple who moved to a state where their marriage was not recognized, as married couples are allowed to file jointly. To smooth this out, the federal government has officially stated that couples can file their federal tax returns jointly, no matter where they were married or if the state in which they currently reside recognizes that marriage.

A Changing Country

Since this whole situation has been in flux lately, residents of any state must keep up with the same-sex marriage laws. The Defense of Marriage Act has been declared unconstitutional, on the grounds that it was a violation of the Fifth Amendment, and that has opened the door for these sweeping changes. As they continue to come, the rights of couples across the United States are changing, and changing quickly. With such an influence on everything from inheritance rights to military benefits, this change is something everyone should keep an eye on in the months and years to come.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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