Same-sex marriage refers to the legally recognized marriage of two spouses who identify as the same sex as each other, such as a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman. At first, same-sex couples were only allowed to legally enter a union of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and Oregon. 

Is Same-Sex Marriage Legal in the United States?

Yes, as of June 2015, the United States Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in every state. This extended the right for same-sex couples to marry. Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in all fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia. 

In 1996, the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) was enacted by congress. This discriminatory act provided only one man and one woman could legally be married, as it pertained to federal benefits afforded to those married in the United States. It denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and all federal rights available to married couples. 

Additionally, the Act granted each state the right to refuse recognition of same-sex marriage licenses. Although the Act did not prohibit states from allowing same-sex marriages, it did not obligate states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states that did recognize same-sex marriage licenses. 

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was in fact unconstitutional, and same-sex married partners were entitled to the same rights and legal protections, including federal benefits, as heterosexual marriages. Prior to DOMA being struck down, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage. 

Once DOMA was ruled unconstitutional, all federal barriers to same-sex marriages were removed for those who were already married in legalized states. Additionally, in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that states prohibiting same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses were in violation of the United States Constitutional provisions of Due Process and Equal Protection.

As it stands, all fifty states and the District of Columbia must permit same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses, and they must not discriminate against those seeking marriage in the state. Further, same-sex married couples who move from one state to another must have their legal marriage recognized as such by the second state. 

This is the same right that heterosexual married couples enjoy. However, although same-sex marriages are legally recognized, same-sex spouse are still experiencing discrimination when exercising their legal rights.

What Rights Come with Same-Sex Marriage?

Same-sex married couples have the same legal rights, protections, and benefits as those in a heterosexual marriage. Some examples of this include:

  • Property Rights: An example of property rights would include being entitled to an equitable share of your spouse’s property that is acquired over the course of your marriage. 

    • This is dependent upon your state’s laws, and applies to heterosexual marriages as well. Estate planning rights are included in property rights.
  • Tax Benefits: Tax benefits include the right to a larger standard deduction when filing jointly as opposed to filing separately.
  • Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney: This includes the right to make emergency medical decisions on your spouse’s behalf should they become incapicated. This also includes the right to enter into contracts, negotiate, and settle matters as if you were your spouse.
  • Insurance Coverage: Life insurance, auto insurance, insurance provided by employers, and other benefits may be extended to your spouse.
  • Divorce and Parenting Rights: Most states recognize the right to adopt children as a same-sex married couple. Additionally, if a child is born to one parent during the marriage, the other parent may have legal parenting rights to that child. 
  • Spousal Testimonial Privilege: Should you be called to testify against your spouse in court, you may be able to invoke marital privilege in order to avoid testifying without being held in contempt of court.

Other rights include access to domestic relation laws, workers compensation, and inheritance rights. 

Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Facing Obstacles to My Same-Sex Marriage?

Although same-sex marriage has been legalized across the United States, and are entitled to the exact same rights, privileges, and protections as heterosexual marriages, those who are in a same-sex marriage often face discrimination. Further, each state varies in regards to their recognition of same-sex marriages and their rights. 

If you are facing any issues regarding same-sex marriage laws, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable family law attorney in order to understand your rights and what protections you are afforded. An experienced family attorney can also assist in divorce and custody disputes if needed. 

If you have been discriminated against because of your same-sex marriage, a civil rights attorney may be able to help you take action, understand your rights and options, and represent you in court as necessary. It is important that you find someone to advocate for your federally granted rights.