Getting legally married can be tremendously meaningful for your relationship and commitment to each other. But it also brings complicated legal consequences, especially since Georgia bans same-sex marriage and will not recognize such marriages from out of state.
You also still will not receive the federal benefits of marriage, because President Obama’s decision to no longer defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act does not automatically overturn DOMA. That will have to come from Congress or the courts.
In the meantime, Lambda Legal recommends that you consider these issues before travelling to another jurisdiction to marry your same-sex partner.
1. Where do we start?
You should start where people in different-sex couples have always started, by asking yourself and your partner some essential questions. Are you ready for this legal commitment? Do you want to bind your lives together with significant financial and other consequences? Marriage is a serious commitment with big responsibilities, and only you and your partner can answer these very personal questions for yourselves.
2. What are the extra concerns same-sex couples have in choosing whether or not to marry?
Same-sex couples — especially those who can’t marry in their home state — face a host of unique questions because they can face discrimination in all parts of their lives. For instance, some state laws give protections to same-sex couples, while others like Georgia deny same-sex couples those protections. Then you have to add federal law, which is hostile to same-sex couples as a result of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. All these laws may affect your marriage wherever you live, so your decision about whether to marry needs to take this landscape into account.
3. What are some specific reasons we might decide not to get married?
If one of you is in the military or is in the United States on an immigration visa, getting married could be harmful under federal laws, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which require discrimination based on sexual orientation. (President Obama has signed a law that would lead to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but repeal has not happened yet).
If you or your partner is receiving needs-based government benefits like public assistance, getting married might cost you the benefits because spousal income and assets may be counted as part of determining your eligibility. Or if you are in the process of adopting a child or planning to do so, some states and countries allow adoptions by single parents but not by same-sex-couples, so a marriage could complicate matters.
For more information on these situations, contact one of Lambda Legal’s Help Desks: 866-542-8336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. What else should we consider if we’re thinking of marrying in another state or country?
The uncertainty, if nothing else. Many states, including Georgia, have passed laws denying recognition to marriages of same-sex couples. In those states, state and local governments likely will not respect your marriage. The good news is that when you return home married, you will have a unique chance every day to serve as role models for what married same-sex couples look like and to show that your marriage strengthens your relationship, and harms no one. Your personal example of love and commitment will be an important contribution to our civil rights work.
But if you choose to get married, remember that you are married. You cannot say you’re married only when it helps but not when it hurts.
That means, for example, you will identify yourself as married on applications and forms for jobs, apartments, credit, mortgages, insurance, medical treatment and, where advisable, on state or federal returns. You will be doing this even as other people — and the law — may not see you as married and discriminate against you. You will be doing this even when you may get all the burdens of marriage but few of the benefits.
Then there’s divorce. Half of all different-sex couples’ marriages end in divorce, and we shouldn’t expect our relationships to be more immune to problems. Georgia will not permit you to dissolve your marriage, and all states have some type of residency requirement to get a divorce.
Individuals married to a person of the same sex who want to get out of the marriage but can’t may experience difficulty moving on because of what that existing marriage may mean for entering a new relationship.
Further, as either individual in the failed marriage travels or moves from one state to another, the light switch goes on and off with regard to whether or not they have the responsibilities of the marriage that still exists. That has to be considered in your decision.
5. What can we do to protect ourselves, whether or not we decide not to get married?
Although marriage provides a vast set of protections, there are other important steps you can take to protect yourself, your relationship and your family as much as possible. This is true even for married different-sex couples, but if you’re in a same-sex couple — married or not — life planning is even more important because you may face discrimination. For help, see Lambda Legal’s life-planning toolkit, “Take The Power: Tools for Life and Financial Planning.”
Source: Lambda Legal: “Travelling to Another State or Country to Marry?” (www.lambdalegal.org)