At Lyons & Associates, P.C., we specialize in all aspects of family law, including issues relating to same – sex couples. Many people have asked us about the two most recent Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage (United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry), and what they mean for citizens of this State. The short answer is no one knows for sure.
The first case, United States v. Windsor, involved an elderly woman who had married her long-time partner in a place where it was legal for same-sex couples to get married. When Ms. Windsor’s “wife” died and left all of her estate to Ms. Windsor, the federal government hit Ms. Windsor with an estate tax of over $300,000 on the theory that, under the Defense of Marriage Act (known as “DOMA”), Ms. Windsor and her wife were not married, or even related at all. Ms. Windsor sued the federal government, and the Supreme Court held that, in States where gay marriage is fully recognized, gay married people living in those States are entitled to all the same federal benefits that straight married people enjoy, including benefits relating to estate taxes and many other big issues.
The second case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, involved a recent California law (called “Proposition 8”) that outlawed gay marriage and restricted marriage to only one man and one woman. A federal trial court in California found that California’s Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. When the case went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the land did not rule on the actual merits of the case. All the Supreme Court did was basically say that it would not hear the appeal on technical grounds. The end result is that the federal trial court’s ruling held, and gay people in California won the right to get married – in California only.
As a result of the two cases, now about 30% of all Americans live in States where gay marriage is fully recognized by their home State and where they can also get federal benefits like any other straight married couple. But, on the other hand, that means that 70% of the country still resides in States where gay marriage is not recognized.
So, the two main questions that remain unanswered are this:
- What happens to gay people who live in a State like New Jersey where we have “Civil Unions” instead of gay marriage? Can they too get federal benefits like gay people who have an actual “marriage” like in some other States?
- What happens if a couple gets married in a State where gay marriage is legal (currently 11 different States plus Washington D.C.), and then that couple moves to a State that does not recognize gay marriage at all (like Kentucky or Georgia)? Under federal law, is that couple’s marriage suddenly void? Do they lose the federal benefits they once had when they were in the State where they could actually be married?
Contact Lyons & Associates
Experts predict that it may be as long as 10-20 years before the above questions are completely answered. In the meantime, where should gay couples turn for advice? The able attorneys of Lyons & Associates, P.C. are here to help. Call us today at 908-575-9777, or contact us online. We will walk you and your families through these uncertain times with knowledge and compassion.
Written by: Theresa A. Lyons