New York’s recently passed legislation allowing homosexual couples to legally marry goes into effect on Sunday, July 24. Thousands of same-sex couples are planning ceremonies to marry, but those that are residents of other states may find the benefits guaranteed to their friends in New York will not be recognized by the state where they reside.
If a homosexual couple living in nearby states such as New Jersey venture to New York state to marry, they will soon discover New Jersey will not recognize their marriage as a legal union.
New York is the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage but it is still illegal in 29 other states.
Regardless of the legality of the marriage in any state, same-sex couples will not be able to take advantage of federal benefits such as Social Security death benefits or file income taxes jointly. Federal law still does not recognize homosexual marriages since the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, stating that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The Obama administration has said it will not defend DOMA and there are numerous lawsuits already in play.
At a recent Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed the Respect of Marriage Act that would overturn DOMA and create significant legal issues for states whose constitutions already define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Chances are slim the act will be heard by the full Senate since it faces overwhelming odds in a Republican controlled House.
What will happen if a same-sex couple wants to dissolve the marriage in another state?
Divorce attorneys are speculating one or both of the parties would need to relocate to New York in order to divide assets and receive benefits of the other spouse. Miles Mason, an attorney who handles divorce cases in Tennessee, said the obstacles facing same-sex couples that marry in New York and live in another state and seek a divorce would be overwhelming.
“My advice is if they marry in New York they need to live in New York. It sounds like a same-sex divorce practice may be a growing specialty in the New York legal community,” said Mason.
Another issue many companies and same-sex couples will encounter involve existing benefits and they too could disappear.
Even before New York approved same-sex marriage in June, some companies in the Empire state extended certain benefits to domestic partners of employees. Will those same benefits continue for domestic partnerships or will companies change their policies and mandate that same-sex couple legally marry? How will this impact heterosexual couples that live together but are not married? The questions only get more complicated.
Some New York County clerks have resigned in opposition to the new law.