Same-sex marriage is back in the Supreme Court. Here’s what a ruling will mean.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, April 28, will hear oral arguments over whether states’  same-sex marriage bans are constitutional, setting the stage for a final decision on marriage equality by the end of June.

Federal appeals courts have disagreed on whether states’ bans violate the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, leaving it to the Supreme Court to decide the issue.

Same-sex marriages are already allowed in 37 states and Washington, DC, but many hinge on lower courts’ decisions in favor of marriage equality.

For the full story, click on the link below:

http://a.msn.com/01/en-us/AA8fYeF?ocid=se

 

Pro Bono Client Finds Comfort in Identity Through Name Change Project

 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured an article highlighting the Name Change Project and its role in helping  local transgender individuals legally change their name to one that is consistent with their gender.  Obtaining a name change is not a particularly complex procedure, but many individuals do not have the necessary resources to undertake the process alone – not to mention the comfort that having an attorney involved adds to the process, reports the article.

In the words of Alice Millage – whose name change Buchanan attorneys Maureen Cohon, Kate Paine and Bridget Daley helped obtain –  “Getting a name change ‘would’ve been a lot harder, definitely,’ without the project. ‘Having to do all of the paperwork and documents by myself would have been stressful for me and would have cost more money.’”

The article reports that the Name Change Project has already assisted in 1,700 name changes nationally and sees a “very strong demand for services in Pittsburgh.”

Read more about the project here.

The Name Change Project provides free legal name change services to transgender people through partnerships with some of the nation’s most prestigious law firms and corporate law departments. For many transgender people, securing a legal name change is an important step toward making their legal identities match their lived experience. A lack of appropriate identity documents can deter people from applying for jobs, school, and public benefits, and can lead to discrimination. But securing a legal name change can be a challenging experience, involving interaction with the court system and judges that is foreign to many people. By providing people with adequate legal representation, we work to ensure that people successfully complete the process and move forward with their lives. For more information, visit http://www.transgenderlegal.org.

 

Questions and Answers Regarding Same Sex Marriages

 If I was married out-of-state before Whitewood legalized same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, when is my official “date of change” of marital status, for purposes of determining whether my spouse is eligible under my employee benefit plan?

by: Raul Mendoza (Summer Associate)

It may be the case that, before your spouse can qualify under your employee benefit plan, your employer requires you to notify it of a change in marital status within a certain number of days after the marriage.  It is always a good idea to review your employer’s policies to see if such requirement exists.

Those Pennsylvanians who had already legally wed their same-sex partners outside of Pennsylvania before Whitewood was decided may now be wondering when the change in marital status officially “occurred,” now that Pennsylvania recognizes same-sex marriage: is it the date that you got married?; is it May 20, 2104, the day the Whitewood opinion was issued and same-sex marriage became legal?; or is it another date – perhaps the date Governor Corbett stated he would not appeal the ruling?  The answer to this question is very important, since in some instances, it may determine whether you are too late in reporting your status change, rendering your spouse ineligible for your employee benefits.

Good news: May 20, 2014, is the effective “change of marital status” date for those same-sex couples married out of state before Whitewood was decided.  As such, Pennsylvania employers should not be able to take the position that couples married outside of Pennsylvania prior to the Whitewood decision needed to report the date of their out-of-state marriage and are now too late to collect spousal benefits.

 

How has the legalization of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania altered the adoption process for same-sex couples?

by Gabrielle Lee (Summer Associate)

“Any individual may become an adopting parent.” This statement, cited from Pennsylvania’s Adoption Act now rings true for same-sex married individuals seeking to adopt their spouse’s children through what is called a “second-parent adoption.”  The Adoption Act provides that, unless the court determines otherwise, the consenting parent of an adoptee (the child to be adopted) must permanently relinquish all parental rights to his or her child unless the adopter is the consenting parent’s spouse.

Prior to Pennsylvania’s Whitewood decision, which struck down Pennsylvania’s law refusing to recognize same-sex marriages, this “spousal exception” did not apply to same-sex couples, whether lawfully married outside of Pennsylvania or not.  Although the Adoption Act did not explicitly prohibit same-sex couples from adopting, it imposed additional hurdles not faced by opposite-sex married couples. Same-sex couples wanting to adopt had two options: either the consenting parent could temporarily relinquish all rights to the child and subsequently file for a joint adoption with the spouse, or the consenting parent could attempt to persuade the court that the adopting partner should be permitted to adopt while the parent retained custody. For the latter option, the court had the discretion to determine if the adoption was in the best interest of the child.

Fortunately, now that Pennsylvania recognizes same-sex marriage, married same-sex spouses no longer encounter these time-consuming and emotionally-draining hurdles that existed before Whitewood.

 

 What is the status of domestic partnership benefits on a federal level post-Windsor?

by Matthew Dulac (Summer Associate)

Before the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) in United States  v. Windsor, the federal definition of “marriage” was limited to that between a man and a woman. For that reason, same-sex couples in registered domestic partnerships and civil unions could not receive spousal benefits under federal law.  This has not changed post-Windsor, since same-sex and opposite-sex married couples are now afforded (nearly all of) the same treatment under federal law.  That is, federal spousal benefits are only extended to “married” couples – whether same-sex or opposite-sex – and not to domestic partners.

In fact, several federal agencies have clarified that “marriage” means only couples who are actually married under the law, regardless of sexual orientation, and not those in registered domestic partnership or civil unions.  For example, in September 2013, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stated in Revenue Ruling 2013-17  that, for tax purposes, the term  “marriage” includes marriage between individuals of the same sex but does not include registered domestic partnerships.

Similarly—and just two days after the IRS—the US Department of Labor (DOL) released its own statement in the DOL Guidance to Employee Benefit Plans 2013-04 that it would interpret “spouse” as any individual lawfully married under any state law, and “marriage” to include a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law.  The DOL also stated, however, that the terms “spouse” and “marriage” do not include individuals in a relationship that is not denominated a “marriage” under state law, such as a domestic partnership.

In sum, even though same-sex marriages now are eligible for many of the same federal benefits as opposite-sex marriages, domestic partnerships remain unrecognized for the purpose of receiving federal spousal benefits.

If you die intestate (without a last will and testament), will your same-sex spouse be considered a “spouse” for purposes of inheritance?

by Mercedes Bugallo (Summer Associate) 

Yes.  One of the effects of the Whitewood decision is that same-sex spouses are considered a “spouse” for purposes of Pennsylvania’s intestate succession process. A person domiciled in Pennsylvania who dies without a will is said to have died “intestate” and his or her estate is divided according to Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws. The existence of surviving children or parents will affect the amount of the estate and other property to which the same-sex spouse is entitled.  If the deceased left no children or parents, then the surviving spouse inherits everything. Importantly, property inherited from a spouse is exempt from Pennsylvania’s estate tax.

For more detailed information, please refer to this chart, located on the Allegheny Register of Wills’ website: http://www.alleghenycounty.us/wo/probate/intestate.pdf

 

 

Does the recognition of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania have any effect on immigration visa petitions for Pennsylvania citizens?

by Mercedes Bugallo (Summer Associate)

Immigration visas, unlike marriage recognitions, are regulated by the federal government, not the individual states.  This means that the Pennsylvania Whitewood decision, albeit groundbreaking on a state level, has no effect on a same-sex couple’s application for green cards or fiancé visas.

Fortunately, however, the federal government has been treating both same-sex and opposite-sex married couples alike for immigration purposes since shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”)
unconstitutional in 2013, in the case of United States v. Windsor.  Before Windsor, a U.S. citizen could not sponsor his or her foreign spouse for a green card or fiancée visa. Now, bi-national same-sex couples are afforded the same consideration as opposite-sex couples for immigration purposes.  Indeed, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USIS), which is the organization in charge of the visa process for spouses of American citizens, USIS reviews immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.

Keep in mind that “the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated determines whether the marriage is legally valid for immigration purposes. . . . The domicile state’s laws and policies on same-sex marriages will not bear on whether USCIS will recognize a marriage as valid.” In other words, USCIS will consider visa petitions of same-sex couples who have a valid marriage license from a U.S. state or foreign country where same-sex marriage is legal, even if the couple lives in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. But, it will not consider visa petitions for same-sex spouses whose marriage was performed in a country or state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, even if the couples lives in a state that does recognize same-sex marriages, because the marriage was not lawfully entered into.

 The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ FAQ section for same-sex marriage applications and benefits can be found at: http://www.uscis.gov/family/same-sex-marriages.