Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts

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Types of Same-Sex Partnerships

In the U.S., there are a few categories of legally-recognized same-sex partnerships, determined by individual states.

A small minority of states (Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Iowa) performs and recognizes same-sex marriages, with New Hampshire set to begin performing such unions on January 1, 2010.

A larger number of states, but still a minority, have a separate category of legal unions for same-sex couples, which provide some of the basic rights and responsibilities associated with marriage, but they eschew the “marriage” label, calling them “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships”.

Most states in the U.S. still do not legally recognize any form of same-sex union.

Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts

In 2003, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples violated the equal protection clause in that state’s constitution.

Immediately thereafter, some organizations attempted to amend the state constitution to explicitly define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but all of those attempts failed, and it appears that there is little political will in the state to make such an attempt again, especially since same-sex marriages have been performed there for over 6 years, with no apparent ill effects.

Accordingly, same-sex couples who get married in Massachusetts have the exact same rights under state law as opposite-sex married couples.

Federal Complications

However, there was one problem for same-sex couples who get married in Massachusetts, or any other state; the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton. Under the federal law, the federal government was prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages, or any other legal union for same-sex couples, performed by a given state.

On June 26th, 2013, the United States Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment. The Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that DOMA deprived “liberty without due process.” Married homosexual couples can now receive federal benefits.

Do I Need an Massachusetts Attorney?

Because the situation with same-sex marriage remains in a state of flux, and the conflict with federal law can make things very complicated, it might be helpful for you to contact an experienced Family Law Attorney in Massachusetts, if you have any questions about your rights or those of your partner.

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Last Modified: 12-27-2013 11:04 AM PST

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