Until June 26, 2015, state laws governing same-sex marriage were as diverse as the states themselves. On one end of the spectrum were states that would recognize a right for same-sex couples to marry; on the other end were states that would neither issue a marriage license nor recognize valid same-sex marriage licenses issued by other states. The ability of states to treat same-sex couples differently than opposite-sex couples forever changed when the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
The plaintiffs who filed lawsuits in the Obergefell case consisted of 14 same-sex couples and two homosexual men whose life partners had passed away. The plaintiffs were from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Initially, the cases were brought in separate actions in federal trial courts, called the district courts. All of the district courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. However, the cases were consolidated at the next stage of the judicial process, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the judgments, ruling against the rights of same-sex couples.
The two issues in the case related to the ability of the states to (1) refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; and (2) refuse to recognize as legal same-sex marriages that had been performed in other states.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, holding that the state laws that “exclude[d] same-sex couples from civil marriage” were unlawful and that states could not ” refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State.”
This decision will affect many aspects of same-sex marriage nationwide, as marriage is a cornerstone of American society. Indeed, the Court specifically delineated many benefits of marital status, such as the following:
- tax benefits;
- inheritance rights;
- medical decisionmaking rights;
- vital statistics records, such as birth and death certificates;
- survivor rights for the purposes of insurance and workers’ compensation; and
- child custody and support.
California was the second state to recognize same-sex marriage, in 2008. However, it has had a rocky history due the passage of a state constitutional amendment, Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriage. The constitutional amendment was challenged but ultimately invalidated.
The termination of a legal union can be financially and emotionally devastating. In such a circumstance, it is important to work with an experienced, compassionate lawyer who can help you navigate a very difficult time. Judy L. Burger has an extensive, successful background in family law matters in Northern California. Call her today: (415) 293-8314.