Marriage Equality Act, Your Rights


I wanted to take a moment to answer some reoccurring questions that have emerged since the passage of marriage equality in New York State. Many have asked how this historic legislation impacts couples living here who are considering getting married.

Governor Cuomo’s signing of our Marriage Equality Act is a huge victory for our community. New York is the largest jurisdiction and the sixth U.S. state to legalize marriage for every couple. Even for singletons and others who aren’t planning on nuptials, this is a win—and it can advance efforts to ensure full civil rights for the LGBT community across the nation. It pushes the fight for marriage equality in 44 other states further and gives us a platform for the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Our success also allows us to direct resources to other important struggles, like lobbying for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which makes discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees in the work place illegal.

But amid the celebration of our new right, there is good news and bad news. First, the good news: you can marry your significant other under New York State law in the same way and to the same extent as your heterosexual neighbors. You might find pushback from some religious institutions—an exemption in the law says they can’t be required to perform same sex marriages—but overall, equality is just that.

The bad news? DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages, with a broad range of consequences. Married gay and lesbian couples will still have to file as individuals on their taxes and will be banned from receiving federal benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy, like access to a deceased partner’s social security benefits. In states that have constitutional amendments against same sex marriage, you and your spouse will be considered single. We still have a lot of work to do. Finally, just a cautionary note. Now that it’s finally legal, it may be tempting to rush to the altar. Our relationships and our identities are so significantly undervalued and unrecognized in mainstream society that we may want to prove, by getting married, that we matter. But marriage is a legal status with specific legal consequences. Think carefully about whether or not you want to get married. Marriage means that you and your partner are a single unit under the law. Your property, unless your expressly say otherwise, becomes joint property. It’s a monumental commitment— and one that should not be taken lightly. For folks who are considering tying the knot, I suggest that you speak with an attorney to learn more about your rights and obligations.

Congratulations to those who fought so hard for our right to marry, and congratulations to the many of you who will take advantage of this right.

*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.