Marriage Equality- How does it affect us?

By:  Deena L. Betze, Esq.

This week, the United States Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires states to recognize and grant marriages between same sex couples in Obergerfell, et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et. al., recognizing marriage as a fundamental constitutional right for same sex couples as well as opposite sex couples.

How does this landmark decision affect our lives?

There are two equally correct and opposite answers to this question from my perspective:

1. Not at all:

The arguments against our nation finally recognizing marriage equality mostly revolve around the suggestion that same sex marriage somehow diminishes the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. To the contrary, the plaintiffs in Obergefell sought recognition of their unions based on their belief in the institution of marriage, as well as their need for the rights, dignities and benefits bestowed upon married couples. Far from devaluing marriage, these plaintiffs sought to honor and uphold the institution. If this has any effect at all upon heterosexual married couples, it is to support the concept of a lifelong commitment between two loving adults and promotion of the family unit that marriage represents. It does not in any way detract from the institution of marriage so many hold sacred or otherwise affect the rights or liberties that previously existed for opposite sex marriages.

2. A whole lot:

This is a fundamental civil rights issue that affects us all. Any time there is a landmark civil rights decision in this country it reminds me of how amazing our system of law and government can be, and makes me proud to be an American. This decision represents a victory for equal rights for all Americans. On this 4th of July week, I am reminded of other groundbreaking SCOTUS decisions deemed controversial in their time, which also redefined and recognized equality and civil rights, such as Loving v. Virginia, which struck down individual state’s bans on interracial marriage.

Do these musings sound strange coming from a divorce attorney?

Not at all, from my perspective, which is based on the concept that our role as family law attorneys is to help and guide our clients through one of the most difficult transitions they will face in their lifetimes, and do our best to preserve their families in the process.

As an adoption attorney, I rejoice for the many children whose families can now be complete and equal to their peers.

This decision promotes and preserves family units, equality and freedom of choice. On the eve of the 4th of July weekend, let us remember and reflect upon the freedoms, both of religion and personal choice, upon which this great country was based, and rejoice in this breakthrough decision that celebrates and upholds those principles.

No-fault dissolution now available to same sex couples.

While the civil union statute does not specifically include irreconcilable differences as a no-fault basis for dissolution of a civil union, a Superior Court judge has ruled that the no-fault cause of action for irreconcilable differences is a viable and appropriate basis for dissolution of a civil union. Judge Lawrence Jones relied upon the NJ Supreme Court case Lewis v. Harris in finding that a lesbian couple may rely upon irreconcilable differences to dissolve their civil union (they were never legally married) finding that to be consistent with the spirit of Lewis v. Harris, granting same-sex couples the same rights and heterosexual couples. When the civil union statute became law, irreconcilable differences was not a cause of action for divorce either, that addition having been made to the divorce statute soon thereafter.  The civil union statute was never modified to include irreconcilable differences as a cause of action for dissolution.  For whatever reasons it was not modified to mirror the divorce statute, this judge has definitively determined that the distinction is one without purpose, meaning or justification, and has hopefully put an end to any debate on this issue once and for all.

Dissolution of Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships

New Jersey now recognizes marriage between same-sex couples!  As a result, same-sex couples who marry have the same rights and obligations as heterosexual couples who marry, and the laws related to separation and divorce apply to all. At one time New Jersey had a Domestic Partnership Act for LGBT couples who were unable to marry and heterosexual couples of age 62 or over who live together (cohabit) who chose not to marry. NJ then adopted a Civil Union Act bringing the status of LGBT couples closer to that of married heterosexual couples.  Although same-sex marriage (gay marriage) is now legally recognized in NJ, some Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions remain valid.  We represent members of the LGBTQ community seeking to divorce or dissolve Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions in NJ either through mediation, Collaborative Law, negotiation, or litigation.  We are prepared to draft agreements and assist individuals in Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions to protect themselves and their rights regarding their children, support, the distribution of assets, allocation of debts, insurance, and other family law issues.  For more information or a consultation, call our office.