Answers to Your Real-life Legal Problems
My partner and I are considering getting married in California. I recently heard that Governor Paterson has decided that New York State will recognize same-sex marriages. What does this mean for us?
In May of this year, Governor Paterson issued an Order that New York State agencies must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside of New York, and requested that each state agency review their regulations to ensure that this new policy be carried out wherever possible. The Governor’s Order was recently upheld by a Bronx court in September, although it is more than likely that the case will be appealed.
So what does the Governor’s Order mean for you and your partner? Unfortunately, we will not know its full impact for quite a while. In many ways, it raises as many questions as it answers. Many of the 1,324 state-based rights and responsibilities of marriage that were previously identified by the Courts are not regulated by the Executive Branch of New York State government. Instead, they are enforced by the Courts, and may require legislation to clarify the impact of the Governor’s Order. Additionally, private employers may not be required to adhere to the State’s decision to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions. Recent court decisions (also still being appealed) did open the State’s divorce courts to same-sex married couples, which should provide much-needed direction when our relationships dissolve regarding custody and financial issues.
Until enough time has elapsed for the Courts and Legislature to answer many of these questions, it is imperative that gay and lesbian couples who are legally married outside of New York consult attorneys to ensure their families are protected. For example, wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies and guardianship documents should always be drawn up sooner than later. Additionally, if you and you partner have children you should still follow through with the second-parent adoption process, not only while the law is uncertain in New York, but also in case you and your family move to a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere.
Governor Paterson’s Order as well as each of these recent court decisions are big steps on the road to full recognition of our marriage rights, but there are still more steps needed. Until then, proceed joyously, but with caution.
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*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.