On June 26, 2015, the United State Supreme Court, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, ruled that it is a violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution to deny same-sex couples the right to enter into a civil marriage. In plain English, same-sex couples anywhere in the jurisdiction of the United States can now enter into a civil marriage. In addition, if you are married in New Jersey, now you are married everywhere in the United States, including places like Texas and Alabama. In the closing paragraph of his opinion, Justice Kennedy summarized the decision as follows:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
There has been much written about this decision. However, the question presented in this article is, what impact will this decision have on New Jersey citizens?
Same-sex marriage has been legal in New Jersey since September 27, 2013. In the U.S. Supreme Court case of Windsor v. U.S., the court made all federal benefits of marriage available to valid same-sex marriages nationwide. However, it only applied to those who could be married in their individual states. Therefore, New Jersey residents who were married had all of the federal and state benefits of marriage. So, what has changed now? New Jersey married same-sex couples are now married everywhere in the United States. Why is that important? Here is a brief list of issues that our married couples would have to deal with upon leaving our state borders and how the recent decision has changed things:
- Health Benefits: Now, you are able to avail yourself of spouse health insurance benefits no matter where you live. Prior to the Obergefell decision, moving out of New Jersey could have meant the elimination of health insurance for your spouse.
- Income Tax: While you could file a joint federal income tax return no matter where you moved, you could not file a state or local income tax return unless the state you lived recognized same-sex marriage. Now, you need not worry. If the state you move to has an income tax, you will be permitted to file a joint income tax return if you were married in New Jersey, or anywhere else.
- Inheritance Rights: Despite being married in New Jersey, or elsewhere, the state in which a spouse died could have denied the marriage. That could create a whole host of problems. With Obergefell, you will no longer need to be concerned as same-sex marriage is recognized throughout the United States. Estate taxes and other laws will apply if you are legally married.
- Medical Decisions: The right to make medical decisions and visit a same-sex spouse in the hospital was questionable once you left the jurisdiction of New Jersey. Now, you need not worry about that issue from a legal perspective. You will be considered married no matter where you are dealing with medical issues.
- Divorce: If you moved to a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage, you would be unable to get divorced. Now, that issue has been removed and the dissolution laws of every state will apply (so long as you meet the residential requirements of the state in which you live).
This decision changes the lives of same-sex couple in New Jersey. They can finally travel and move anywhere in the country without worrying about whether their marriages will be honored. We are available to answer any questions you have about how this decision specifically affects you and your family.