Category Archives: Same-Sex Marriage

Same-Sex Marriage Bans Come Tumbling Down

ringsYesterday, the United States Supreme Court chose to do nothing, which, ironically, resulted in the most widespread impact on the marriage equality movement to date. The Supreme Court’s inaction – its decision not to review lower court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans – effectively added 12 more states to the marriage equality column.

What Happened? Here’s What the Court Didn’t Do

Three separate federal appeals courts (for the Fourth, the Seventh and the Tenth circuits) struck down state marriage bans from five different states – Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana. These states appealed the decisions to the Supreme Court (or SCOTUS). Yesterday, SCOTUS denied review of these petitions, meaning it chose not to hear the states’ appeals. In doing so, the Supreme Court left the lower court rulings in place. As a result, the same-sex marriage bans in these five states are no longer valid, and same-sex couples in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana are now free to marry.

The Court’s inaction will also affect a few additional states. Because the Justices let the lower court rulings stand, those decisions now become law of the land for other states that fall under the Fourth (Virginia), Seventh (Indiana and Wisconsin) and Tenth (Utah and Oklahoma) Circuits. This means that six other states whose same-sex marriage bans are still on the books will soon have to admit defeat, as their bans are now effectively dead. These states include West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado (but see below) and Wyoming.

Colorado’s AG Follows the Court’s Lead

Soon after the Court’s decision, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who previously vowed to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban, announced he would no longer do so. “There are no remaining legal requirements that prevent same-sex couples from marrying in Colorado,” Suthers said in a statement today. He also indicated that all 64 of Colorado’s county clerks are now legally required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples requesting them.

The Ninth Circuit Struck Down Two More Bans Today

And just today, the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Nevada and Idaho. This ruling is expected to control pending challenges to bans in Alaska, Arizona and Montana.

What a Difference a Year Makes – What’s the Roundup?

  • This time last year, same-sex marriage was legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
  • As of yesterday, same-sex marriage was legal in 24 states, plus D.C. (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin).
  • As of today, that number grew to 27, plus D.C. – adding Colorado, Idaho and Nevada.
  • Eight more states (West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona and Montana) will likely be next as a result of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling and the Ninth Circuit’s decision today – the total number could soon be 35 marriage equality states, plus D.C.


The DOJ Extends Federal Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses

ringsOn Saturday, February 8, 2014, United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced that in an effort to implement the Supreme Court’s historic decision in United States v. Windsor, the Department of Justice (which includes all of its agencies and programs) would follow a new policy of recognizing “valid same-sex marriages” – same-sex marriages that are entered into or celebrated in a jurisdiction (state, district or foreign country) which authorizes same-sex marriage.

A Little Background on the Department of Justice

The Office of the Attorney General heads the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and is considered the chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government (click here for a chart that will give you a better idea of how the DOJ is organized and what agencies and programs will be impacted by this new policy). Under the guidance of the Attorney General, the DOJ enforces federal criminal and civil laws on behalf of the United States.

On Monday, February 10, 2014, Attorney General Holder issued a formal memo outlining the DOJ’s new policy and some of the benefits now available to legally married same-sex couples.

Married is Married: the DOJ Will Follow the “Place of Celebration” Rule

The official memo makes clear that the DOJ will recognize valid same-sex marriages to the full extent possible under federal law, regardless of where a same-sex married couple currently resides.

As long as the marriage was celebrated in a state or foreign country that recognizes same-sex marriages (“place of celebration” rule), the DOJ will also recognize the marriage as valid, even if the couple (or one of the spouses) resides in a state that bans same-sex marriage. In short, it’s the place of celebration, not the place of residence, that matters to the DOJ.

Access to Department Benefits and Compensation Programs

DOJ agencies distributing benefits and compensation which depend on marital status will recognize valid same-sex marriages regardless of where the married spouses reside. Legally married same-sex spouses can now receive benefits and compensation (if otherwise eligible) through a number of programs, including the following:

  • the Public Safety Officer’s Benefits Program
  • the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and
  • the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program.

Bureau of Prison Policies Will Apply Equally to Same-Sex Spouses

All of the Bureau of Prisons’ policies that are affected by marital status will be interpreted to include valid same-sex marriages, again regardless of the laws of the state where an inmate is placed or where an inmate’s spouse lives. Same-sex spouses of inmates will now have the same rights as any other spouse, including the right to visitation at federal prisons and next-of-kin notification regarding inmate spouses.

Same-Sex Spouses May Invoke Marital Privileges in Federal Cases

The DOJ also revised how it will handle the invocation of marital privileges in both federal criminal and civil cases. This impacts both the confidential communications privilege (which protects the contents of confidential communications between spouses made during marriage) and the testimonial privilege (which, under certain circumstances, may protect a party or witness-spouse from being called to testify against his or her spouse). Under the new policy, legally married same-sex spouses can assert (or attempt to assert) these privileges in the same way that opposite-married couples do.

The memo provides the following:

  • the DOJ will consider a marriage valid for purposes of the marital privilege if an individual attempting to assert the privilege was or is validly married in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriages, and
  • if the DOJ is a party to a civil case where state law governs the use of marital privileges and a same-sex spouse asserts it, as a matter of policy, the DOJ (and its attorneys) won’t challenge the invocation based on the state’s laws regarding same-sex marriage. This policy will apply as long as the same-sex marriage is valid in the place it was entered into, even if the marriage is not considered valid in the state where the married spouses reside or formerly resided.

These benefits do not apply to same-sex couples that are registered in domestic partnerships or civil unions.

This is not a complete list of the benefits available to same-sex spouses under the DOJ’s new policy. You can contact the Chief of State, Civil Division for more information at 202-514-3301.


Same-Sex Marriage is on Hold in Utah

ringsOn Friday, December 20, 2013, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying it violates the equal protection rights of gay and lesbian couples. As news of the ruling broke, hundreds of same-sex couples from around the state began requesting marriage licenses.

According to The Huffington Post, county clerks in Utah issued more than 1225 marriage licenses between Friday December 20 and Thursday December 26; at least 74 percent or 905 of those licenses were issued to gay and lesbian couples. The Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office broke its record of 85 marriage licenses in one day by issuing 353 licenses on Monday, December 23.

The State of Utah requested a temporary stay of the ruling, which would prevent any further same-sex marriages from taking place until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has had a chance to rule on Utah’s appeal. However, Judge Shelby denied that request. As a result, same-sex weddings will continue to take place in Utah pending the appeal, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.

Utah state officials have indicated that they will ask the United States Supreme Court (as early as today) to stay the District Court’s ruling. It’s unclear if the state will ask the Supreme Court for any additional relief at this point.

The request will go to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency requests from the region that includes Utah. Justice Sotomayor has the authority to decide this issue on her own or ask the other Justices to weigh in. We’ll be sure to update our site as soon as we learn more.

UPDATE: On January 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the State of Utah’s request for a stay of the District Court’s ruling. No further same-sex marriages will be performed in Utah pending the appeal. The federal appeals panel plans to expedite it’s review of the case, so many hope to see a resolution soon.



New Mexico Becomes the 17th Marriage Equality State

On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage in the state and ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In the decision, Justice Edward L. Chavez wrote, “[w]e hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.”

To read the full opinion, see NM Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality.

Unlike other states, New Mexico never banned or allowed same-sex marriage, which left the issue of marriage equality unsettled across the state. Eight of the state’s 33 counties started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in August 2013. County officials asked the state supreme court to clarify the law.

New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.

Check out Nolo’s LGBT Law section to learn more about same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

Hawaii Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

ringsEarlier today, Hawaii’s Governor Neil Abercrombie approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. After a week-long hearing, the Hawaii Senate passed the measure yesterday and sent it to the Governor for his signature. Same-sex weddings will begin in the Aloha State on December 2, 2013.

Although the Illinois Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill on November 6, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn is not scheduled to sign that bill into law until November 20, 2013. Since Hawaii’s Governor acted so quickly and, in essence, beat Illinois to the final approval punch, Hawaii is now being hailed by some as the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage (even though Illinois held that title just last week.) Same-sex weddings should begin taking place in Illinois on June 1, 2014.

To learn more about same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, go to Nolo’s LGBT Law center.


Illinois Lawmakers Vote for Same-Sex Marriage

ringsIllinois is set to become the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Today, the Illinois Senate approved a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage across the state. The bill must go to Governor Pat Quinn, who has already promised to sign it into law. Same-sex weddings will take place in Illinois starting in June 2014.

Hawaii is poised to follow suit as we wait for the Hawaii House of Representatives to vote on a same-sex marriage bill, which could happen any day now.

To learn more about same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, go to Nolo’s LGBT Law center.


Oregon Will Recognize Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriages

The Oregon Department of Justice has ruled that all state agencies in Oregon must recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, even though same-sex couples cannot get married within the state.

More About the Ruling

Oregon Deputy Attorney General Mary Williams indicated that the ruling was based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s U.S. v. Windsor decision, which struck down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. She wrote that not recognizing marriages conducted in other jurisdictions after the Supreme Court’s decision “would likely violate the federal Constitution.”

The Department of Justice decided that it would be legally indefensible for Oregon to recognize out-of-state marriages from opposite-sex couples while refusing to recognize those from same-sex couples.

How Things Have Changed in Oregon

In response to the ruling, Michael Jordan, the chief operating officer for the state government, sent a memo to all state agency directors advising them of the new policy. Oregon agencies must now recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries for the purposes of administering state programs and extending benefits, including medical benefits and tax exemptions.

The ruling actually has little impact on the tax status of same-sex couples in Oregon because the 2007 Oregon Family Fairness Act allowed Oregon domestic partners to file their taxes jointly, as if they were married.

Now, however, there is one less step involved – same-sex married couples don’t need to register as domestic partners when they move to Oregon. The same goes for same-sex couples that live in Oregon and go across state lines to get married. All such marriages will now be recognized by the state.

The decision changes things for same-sex married couples that live other states but file Oregon taxes because they own real estate or have businesses in Oregon. Same-sex married couples aren’t allowed to register as domestic partners in Oregon if they don’t reside there, but now they will receive marriage benefits on their state taxes, which they couldn’t get before the ruling.

What’s Next for Oregon?

There is still a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Oregon – the Oregon constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman – so same-sex couples can’t get married in the state. But the Justice Department’s ruling seems to place Oregon’s constitutional ban on shaky ground, and opponents of the ban hope to have it overturned with a ballot measure in 2014. We’ll keep a close eye on Oregon and update our site as the same-sex marriage laws continue to develop over the next year.

To learn more about same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, go to Nolo’s LGBT Law center.

Christie Drops his Appeal – New Jersey is the 14th State to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

ringsNew Jersey Same-Sex Marriages Begin Today

The first-ever same-sex marriages in New Jersey took place early this morning – 12:01 a.m. to be exact – when mayors from around the state began officiating marriages for same-sex couples. These marriages conclude the dramatic legal battle for same-sex marriage in New Jersey.


In 2012, Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature that would have legalized same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples in New Jersey were left with civil unions, which provide most of the rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage conferred by the state, but none of the federal benefits granted to opposite-sex married couples.

In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in U.S. v Windsor, which struck down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In doing so, the Court declared that the federal government must provide the same benefits to same-sex married couples as it does to heterosexual married couples.

Then, on September 27, 2013, Judge Mary C. Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County, New Jersey used the Windsor decision as the legal underpinning for her ruling in favor of same-sex couples challenging New Jersey’s civil union law. She found that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage deprived same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits and “is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts.” She ruled that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry, because not doing so deprives them of rights that were guaranteed by the United States Supreme Court in June.

Judge Jacobson stated that the Windsor decision demanded a change in New Jersey. Under her order, same-sex marriages were set to begin today, October 21, 2013.

This marks the first time a court has struck down a state’s refusal to legalize same-sex marriage as a direct result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. With similar lawsuits pending in several states, this could signal other successful challenges across the country.

Governor Chris Christie Attempts to Intervene

Immediately after Jacobsen’s ruling, Governor Christie filed an appeal of her decision and sought an emergency stay of Jacobson’s order pending the appeal. However, on Friday, October 18, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied Christie’s request to put same-sex marriages on hold.

In a unanimous ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court suggested that if the appeal were to come before the Court in January 2014, it would strike down the same-sex marriage ban. “The state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,” the Court stated. “The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative . . . we can find no public interest in depriving a group of New Jersey residents of their constitutional right to equal protection while the appeals process unfolds,” the justices said.

In light of the Court’s ruling, two important events occurred today: The very first same-sex marriages were officiated in New Jersey, and Governor Christie withdrew the state’s appeal, which means same-sex marriage is now the law of the land in New Jersey.

Christie’s office issued the following statement:

“Although the Governor strongly disagrees with the Court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the Court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law.” The statement also assured New Jersey residents that the Governor’s office will implement the law: “The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

To learn more about same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, go to Nolo’s LGBT Law center.

Q&A: Am I Responsible for my Domestic Partner’s Medical Bills?

iStock_000001166476SmallQuestion: I am curious about financial liability with domestic partnership…i.e., if one of us should fall ill and, in the process, incur monumental medical bills above and beyond what Medicare or Supplemental insurance will pay, is the other partner liable for the bill should the ill partner die?

Answer: The answer to this question depends on the type of domestic partnership registration and the law that applies to the claim or debt.

There is generally no joint liability for these types of debts in a local or employer-based domestic partnership. However, under some city registrations, such as San Francisco, domestic partners are jointly liable for their “basic living expenses” – defined as the cost of basic food and shelter and “expenses which are paid at least in part by a program or benefit for which the partner qualified because of the domestic partnership.” This could arguably include medical expenses if they were paid in part by a health insurance program, which the sick partner qualified for as a result of the domestic partnership. A creditor, such as a hospital or insurance company could make a claim as a third-party beneficiary against the surviving partner based upon the city registration. However, it’s my understanding that this is rarely done.

If the partners are in a marriage-equivalent state registration (such as a California domestic partnership or a New Jersey civil union), then they are subject to most of the same state laws as married couples, including those laws affecting property rights and responsibilities for debts to third parties. Debts governed by state law will extend to the surviving domestic partner, just like they would with a married spouse.

If the claim is based on federal law, such as a Medicaid reimbursement, the domestic partnership won’t likely create joint liability since the federal government doesn’t recognize couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships as “married.” But, that rule could change in the future.

If you haven’t yet taken the plunge with your partner, and you’re really concerned about his or her debts and the potential for joint liability as a result of your union, it’s probably best not to get married or register anywhere.

For more Nolo information on same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships and registrations, click here.

You can find comprehensive coverage of these and other same-sex legal issues in our Same-Sex Marriage and Domestic Partnership titles.

The IRS Will Recognize All Same-Sex Marriages

Today, just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the U.S. Department of the Treasury ruled that all legally married same-sex couples will be treated as married for federal tax purposes.

The Supreme Court’s June 26, 2013 decision in the Windsor case made it clear that same-sex married couples living in one of the U.S. jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage would qualify for federal benefits previously limited to opposite-sex married couples, including federal tax benefits. However, the Court did not address whether the IRS (or other federal agencies) would recognize the marriages of same-sex married couples living in non-recognition states.

Under Thursday’s Treasury ruling, all same-sex couples that are legally married in any U.S. state, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory or a foreign country will be recognized as married under all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor. This includes provisions governing:

  • filing status
  • personal and dependency exemptions
  • standard deductions
  • employee benefits
  • IRA contributions
  • the earned income tax credit, and
  • the child tax credit.

The Treasury Department further clarified that federal recognition for tax purposes applies whether a same-sex married couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage (such as California) or a non-recognition jurisdiction (such as Texas).

In short, it’s the place of celebration (where the marriage took place) not the place of residence (where the married couple lives) that counts. But the decision does not apply to same-sex couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions.

“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve,” said Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

Legally married same-sex couples will file their 2013 federal income tax return using either the “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately” filing status. They may also choose to file an amended return as a married couple and a refund claim for tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012.

For more information on the Treasury ruling, click here.

Fore up-to-date information on same- sex marriage laws, check out Nolo’s LGBT Law center.