Proposition 8, DOMA and Same Sex Marriage - What It Means for You

On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court made two historic rulings: First, they dismissed the appeal of the United States District Court’s decision that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, and second, they struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. What exactly does that mean for same sex couples?

In the June 26, 2013 decision regarding Proposition 8, although the United States Supreme Court didn’t make a ruling as to whether a ban on same sex marriage was constitutional, their dismissal of the appeal means that the lower court’s 2010 ruling that Proposition 8 was an irrational act of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, and was thus unconstitutional, stands. This means that gay marriage is once again legal in California, and will likely resume, very soon. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco stated that it would wait 25 days, the length of time that the backers of Proposition 8 have to ask the Supreme Court to rehear the case. California Governor, Jerry Brown, has already directed the California Department of Public Health to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples as soon as the court hold is lifted. "After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California," Brown said. http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/High-court-Prop-8-backers-lack-standing-4623079.php.

Once California counties are allowed to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, those couples will have the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples. This is true as to federal rights and responsibilities, now that the Supreme Court has struck down DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA defined “marriage” as a “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and “spouse,” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.” As a result, DOMA prevented same-sex, legally married couples, from enjoying many of the same federal rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples. The Court found that there is no legitimate purpose for singling out persons in same sex marriages and denying them the same rights and responsibilities as those people in opposite sex marriages. To the extent it did so, “DOMA instructs all …persons…including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriage of others.” The United States Supreme Court thus found that “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the persons protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.” As a result, married same-sex couples now have full equality under the over 1,000 federal rights and responsibilities surrounding marriage under federal law. Some of those rights include: surviving spouses are entitled to social security benefits when the other spouse dies, waiver of estate tax liability upon the death of a spouse, inclusion as a family member in employer sponsored health insurance plans, inclusion as family for purposes of the Family Medical Leave Act, and ability to utilize the child tax credit and earned income tax credit.

Along with the right to marry and the rights and responsibilities that come along with that right, comes the requirement that to end a marriage, you must obtain a dissolution of your marriage. Married, same-sex couples face the same issues as married, opposite sex couples, including property division, child custody and visitation, spousal support and child support, upon ending their marriage. At Mello & Pickering, LLP, we can assist you with a dissolution matter, whether you are in a same-sex marriage or opposite-sex marriage. Call our office at (408) 288-7800 to set up a consultation. We would be happy to discuss these new court decisions with you, as well as how they may pertain to your particular situation.