On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. As a result, states cannot keep same-sex couples from marrying and must recognize their unions. Prior to the decision, same-sex marriage was legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. However, some states banned same-sex marriage and would not recognize same-sex marriages performed lawfully in other states or countries. Since 2000, more than 20 countries from Argentina to Belgium to South Africa have legalized same-sex marriage. Many rights and benefits under federal and state laws are affected by whether you can marry. Here are six ways that that the ruling may affect the lives of same-sex couples.
  1. Adoption: Marriage makes adoption less complicated. Prior to the ruling, in some states, the inability to marry prevented the joint adoption of children and created difficult issues involving health insurance coverage and custody in the event of the death of one parent. In addition, for lesbian couples in which one of the partners is a birth mother, the inability to marry prevented the other partner from being listed as a parent on the birth certificate.
  2. Sponsoring a Spouse: The ruling will allow same-sex couples in all states the opportunity to sponsor a foreign spouse under federal immigration laws.
  3. Health Care Decisions: The ruling will allow same-sex couples to be recognized as spouses in all states, with the consequent ability to make health care decisions for their partner.
  4. Social Security, Taxes and Health Insurance: Married couples have the benefit of favorable tax rates by filing joint federal and state tax returns. In addition, surviving spouses can collect Social Security upon the death of a spouse. Spouses can be covered under employer-sponsored health insurance.
  5. Inheritance Taxes: Federal inheritance taxes provide very favorable treatment to surviving spouses upon the death of the other spouse.
  6. Divorce and Property Issues: Now that same-sex marriage is legalized in all states, same-sex divorces are to be expected in all states. Each state has rules and guidelines to effectuate the provisions related to support, alimony, child custody, dissolution of marriage, and distribution of assets. Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania are afforded the protection of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code to acquire and/or protect assets, seek child and spousal support and divide martial property. Additionally, instruments such as prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements and separation agreements now are available to same-sex couples.
For supporters of same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court's ruling comes as a long-awaited bookend to the Court's 2013 ruling that struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and required the federal government to provide the same benefits to both gay and heterosexual couples.