The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as being between “one man and one woman” has left many questions unanswered for adults who are interested in non-traditional family structures.
Although some gay rights advocates have criticized parallels to polygamy as an attempt to suggest an slippery slope that redefines marriage in unpredictable ways. Proponents of polygamy bolstered by popular depictions of this form of cohabitation in television on shows like “Sister Wives” may be able to shift the focus from the relevant “man-woman” language struck down by the Supreme Court to the language that limits the number of partners to “one.” A U.S District Court Judge struck down a state law in Utah that may suggest the law is moving in this direction. The court found a law unconstitutional that made it unlawful for a person to “cohabit with another person” if they are not lawfully married. It is important to note that the decision dealt specifically with what it called “religious cohabitation” by unmarried adults rather than marriage. This decision could have immediate ramifications for couples that live together outside of marriage. Whether the right to marry multiple partners could be the next battle ground over the right to marry is yet to be seen.
However, this decision and the trend toward a broader interpretation of marriage is significant because the act of marriage results in the bestowing of certain legal rights including inheritance, parentage, insurance eligibility, tax status and qualification for many public programs and benefits. Some or all of these rights will become available to all gay and lesbian couples and perhaps eventually other non-traditional marital configurations. As the definition of marriage changes, the divorce process must be adapted to respond to the evolving definition of marriage.
The divorce process has a dramatic impact on all parties including spouses and their children so it is important that the law clearly define the rights of spouses both in marriage and divorce. Already many in the gay community are considering with what the decision to strike down part of DOMA means for them if they live in states that have not legalized same sex marriage. While courts are struggling with polygamy and other non-traditional committed livings patterns, no question people need the legal system to provide predictability.
As marriage has long been considered the foundation of a functional society, uniformity of the definition and legal treatment of those living in committed relationships is vital to everyone. Legislative and court decisions regarding our most basic living arrangements effect our economy as the rights and access to health care, insurance are clearly part of the equation.
The above information is designed solely to illustrate general principles of law, and does not constitute a specific legal opinion on individual cases. We suggest that you contact experienced legal counsel for a specific opinion tailored to your individual circumstances.
If you have questions about marriage in NM and or dissolution, the Lightning Legal Group offers a free consultation in our centrally located offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque during which we discuss your situation and answer your questions. Call us today to schedule your free consultation at (505)247-2390 to learn about your rights and options.