The debate as to whether gay marriage should be legal is actually a civil rights issue, as opposed to a family law issue, but there are clear implications on areas of family law as well. Same-sex marriage is a term used to describe legal unions between gay and lesbian couples. And although it may sound pretty straightforward, for many, this term can actually refer not only to marriage in a legal and traditional sense but also to a wide variety of alternate arrangements such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.
The reason for these variations in the meaning of “marriage” is the lack of laws, in most states, providing same sex couples with rights and benefits equal to that of their heterosexual counterparts. In fact, quite the opposite is true – most states have laws in place that specifically prohibit and invalidate a traditional marriage ceremony for same sex couples. This invalidation is reinforced by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, thereby preventing same sex couples from qualifying for any rights or benefits granted to married couples at the federal level.
This causes a variety of problems for same sex couples. In addition to general discrimination and public exclusion, same sex couples also face unique difficulties in the adoption process as many states require adopting parents to be “legally married”. Same sex couples are also not entitled to the various tax exemptions and credits that are normally afforded to married couples nor can they add their spouse to their health insurance policy.
Same sex couples are also not consulted during medical emergencies as they are not considered to be the legal next of kin and are normally not able to inherit property after death unless a will is present. These laws also affect a gay couple’s ability to divorce as the parties are not considered to be legally entitled to normal property settlements and/or spousal support.