Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex couples who wanted to marry were treated differently based on where they lived. While some states allowed same-sex couples to marry, others did not. In fact, many states refused to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions.
All of that changed on June 26, 2015, when the Court issued its landmark decision in a lawsuit filed by 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex life partners had passed away. In the federal trial courts, the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuits prevailed. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit refused to recognize the rights of the same-sex couples. Finding this result in error, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the plaintiffs, forever changing the landscape of rights for same-sex couples nationwide.
Background of the Case
The case was originally filed by two men who had been validly married in Maryland but who lived in Ohio. One of the men was afflicted with a terminal illness, and the couple wanted his spouse to be listed on his death certificate when he passed away. Believing Ohio would refuse to do so under its current laws, the couple sued.
As the case proceeded, the ill spouse passed away. Same-sex couples in other states also filed lawsuits challenging the laws of their states that refused to recognize same-sex marriages. Even a funeral director became a plaintiff, asserting that he worried he would be prosecuted for making false statements on official documents if he completed death certificates listing same-sex marital partners as surviving spouses.
The Supreme Court’s Decision and Its Meaning
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit’s decision and ruled in favor of the same-sex couples. It specifically found that states had to recognize same-sex marriages, saying that state laws that “exclude[d] same-sex couples from civil marriage” were unlawful and that the states could not “refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State.”
The Obergefell v Hodges decision has had, and will continue to have, widespread effects. Imagine all of the rights that come with being married:
- The right to inherit from your spouse without a will;
- Benefits under federal and state tax laws;
- The ability to make medical decisions for your spouse if he or she cannot do so;
- The right to be listed on birth certificates for your children;
- The right to be listed on your spouse’s death certificate;
- The right to request child custody and support;
- The ability to ask for spousal support if you legally separate or divorce;
- The right to obtain Social Security benefits as a spouse; and
- The right to family medical leave, family medical coverage, and other employment benefits.
In addition, same-sex couples will now be able to divorce regardless of where they live. Before the Court’s opinion in Obergefell, many couples could not divorce in their home states.
If you need legal advice relating to the effect of the Obergefell decision in your life, contact an experienced, licensed family lawyer in your state.