After a landmark decision by the US Supreme Court on June 26, 2015, same-sex couples can now marry – and then divorce – in every state.
Despite the inclement weather, the hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators at the annual Pride March in New York City were ecstatic following last week’s landmark 5-4 decision to legalize same-sex marriage by the US Supreme Court. North of the border, pouring rain during the 35th annual Pride parade in Toronto couldn’t dim the crowd’s excitement that American same-sex couples would now have the same freedom to marry that Canadian same-sex couples now have enjoyed for a decade.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision, stated that gay couples could not be excluded from their fundamental right to marry under the Constitution. “Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned,” he wrote. “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”
Same-sex marriage has been legal in every Canadian province and territory for ten years now – although by 2003, eight out of the ten provinces and one of the three territories (which account for 90% of Canada’s population) had already legalized same-sex marriage.
In 2004, Canada became the first country in the world to grant a same-sex divorce (to a lesbian couple known as “M.M.” and “J.H.” in Ontario). So if history repeats itself, states in which same-sex marriages were not considered legal before the Supreme Court ruling could soon be facing their own first same-sex divorce cases.
In fact, at 12:50 p.m. on June 26, Michael Robinson and Earl Benjamin became Louisiana’s first same-sex couple to be married under the historic SCOTUS ruling. Two hours before this happy event, however, New Orleans residents Anna Wellman and Stephanie Baus were divorced under the same ruling. (For more on this tale of two couples, click here.)
Lawyers Catering to Same-Sex Marriage and Divorce
The June 26 SCOTUS ruling also opens the door for family law attorneys and law firms to start taking same-sex divorce cases – some boutique firms may even choose to specialize in same-sex matrimonial law. Gay couples who now wish to marry – or divorce – may need legal help with everything from prenuptial agreements to child-custody issues.
There will be many other issues to sort out, including: tax filing status, health insurance, health-care directives, retirement benefits, military retirement orders. Attorneys who are savvy marketers – or who are personally overjoyed to see their country declare that gay people have the same rights as their heterosexual brothers and sisters – should consider jumping on this bandwagon as soon as possible.
The Road Ahead
- Do you think states that have opposed same-sex marriage will make it difficult for would-be gay spouses to marry by exploiting loopholes in the system?
- What other issues do you foresee in implementing same-sex marriage or divorce?
- Does your firm plan to offer matrimonial legal services to same-sex couples? Tell us why – or why not!
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