Houston Domestic Partnership Attorneys
In the minds of many people, gay marriage, domestic partnerships and civil unions are fairly recent political topics. In reality, people have been using the legal system and family law lawyers to fight for legal recognition of same sex relationships since 1971 with Baker v. Nelson in Minnesota. In 1974, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Rights Amendment could not be applied in support of gay marriage. In 1976, Marvin v. Marvin in California provided the landmark precedent of seeking palimony in gay relationships. Domestic partnerships, in one form or another, began in Berkley, California in 1984 when they started extending some of the benefits of marriage to same sex couples.
Legal Challenge for Same Sex Marriage
The first direct legal challenge for same sex marriage happened in 1993 with Baehr v. Lewin in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting same sex marriages did amount to discrimination. Although, this was not a victory for gay marriage in so much that it did not force Hawaii to allow gay marriages, it did lay the groundwork for further legal action.
Defense of Marriage Act
Baehr v Lewin is accredited for being the impetus behind the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. DOMA does not specifically ban gay marriage nor does it require that states ban gay marriage. It does define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, however, and it denies federal benefits to same sex couples. It also specifies that the use of “marriage” and “spouse” be reserved for heterosexual couples.
In 1999, Baker v State in Vermont determined that the state had to provide homosexual couples with some of the benefits and protections that heterosexual couples received via marriage. This decision did not force Vermont to allow gay marriage but did force the issue that some other legally recognized institution had to be created to accommodate homosexual couples. One year later, Vermont started offering civil unions. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts determined that denying same sex couples was unconstitutional. After some additional legal battles, Massachusetts became the only state to offer and recognize gay marriage.
States that Recognize Gay Marriage
Only a handful of states offer a legally recognized relationship for gay couples. California, Maine, Washington State and Washington DC recognize and offer domestic partnerships. Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont offer and recognize civil unions. Hawaii offers and recognizes reciprocal beneficiaries. Massachusetts is the only state to apply the term “marriage” and all the benefits thereof equally to homosexual and heterosexual couples. New York does not offer same sex unions but it does legally recognize unions formed in other states. Residents of those states need to contact family law lawyers in their area to learn what protections are and are not provided by those types of unions.
Gay Marriage in Texas
Texas does not have any provisions for same sex couples and does not recognize unions formed in other states. Same sex couples must seek out other legal means to gain some of the protections and benefits of marriage by consulting with a family law lawyer. There are some benefits such as being able to file jointly on state and federal taxes, the protections of the marital communication privilege and many others that cannot manifest via other legal means. However, a family law lawyer and an estate lawyer can work together to provide some benefits of marriage to same sex couples.
A medical power of attorney can enable one partner to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner. These documents can also ensure that a person is legally able to interact with doctors and assist in the treatment of their ill partner. A power of attorney or limited power of attorney can enable one partner to make financial and other non-medical decisions on behalf of their partner as well. Giving someone a power of attorney is a very powerful document which enables that person to behave and make decisions on your behalf. It is document to be taken very seriously and issued only after heavy contemplation and a consultation with a family law lawyer.
Same Sex Wills and Trusts
Through the careful drafting of wills and trusts, a gay couple can ensure that burial decisions, property rights, inheritance rights and other protections are offered to a surviving partner. It is imperative for a gay Texas couple to keep their wills current. The only way to provide for your partner after your death is through a will. If there is no will, some judges will grant a blood relative more rights than a partner. This may hold true even if the relative is distant and estranged. Without a properly drafted will, a partner of thirty years may hold fewer rights than a relative that has been absent for just as long. Due to not being excluded from estate taxes and gift taxes like a heterosexual widow or widower would be, trusts are extremely important for homosexual couples. Although trusts cannot provide the same benefits as marriage, they do provide substantial tax and other benefits. Be sure to discuss all these options with a “family law lawyer.”
The fact that some states offer gay marriage or other legally recognized relationship statuses and other states do not, creates a legal mess when a couple decides to split. Normally a divorce is governed by the laws of the jurisdiction in which a couple files the divorce not where the marriage was performed. In states like Texas where the relationship is not given legal recognition, there is nothing in the eyes of the state that needs to be distributed when the couple splits. In these cases, it is extremely important to consult a family law lawyer to ensure that your rights and interests are protected. With the right circumstances a family law lawyer may be able to pursue palimony but even regular alimony is unlikely to be awarded in Texas.
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