Can same-sex couples marry in Connecticut?

Yes. On October 10, 2008, Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to full marriage equality under the Connecticut Constitution. This decision was the result of a lawsuit, Kerrigan & Mock v. Connecticut Dept. of Public Health (289 Conn. 135 (2008)), which GLAD filed on August 25, 2004 in New Haven Superior Court on behalf of eight gay and lesbian Connecticut couples who were denied marriage licenses.

Seven years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges (135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015)), the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality a reality nationwide when it held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry. GLAD’s own Mary Bonauto represented the plaintiffs during oral arguments. Post-Obergefell, all 50 states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and all states must respect the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions.

Can I obtain Social Security survivor benefits if my spouse dies?

Yes, because as stated above, same-sex married couples are entitled to all the benefits provided to different-sex married couples.

However, until the Obergefell v. Hodges decision on June 26, 2015, many same-sex couples lived in states where unconstitutional marriage laws prevented same-sex couples from getting married. So when their spouse passed away, they were not able to meet the Social Security survivor benefit condition of having been married for 9 months.

To correct this unfairness, Lambda Legal filed two lawsuits, Ely v. Saul and Thornton v. Commissioner of Social Security and was successful in obtaining a way for same-sex couples to file for Social Security survivor benefits who either never married (Ely v. Saul) or were finally able to marry but were married less than 9 months when their spouse passed away (Thornton v. Commissioner of Social Security). 

These two rulings allow same-sex couples, who were excluded from marriage because of discriminatory state laws and consequently were not eligible to apply for Social Security survivor benefits, to submit an application. However, the success of that application rests on providing enough documentation to prove to Social Security that the only reason they did not meet the 9 month requirement was because of the discriminatory state laws.

The following link gives more detailed information and has FAQs for each lawsuit and lists some of the ways you might be able to provide the documentation needed to qualify for the survivor benefit: Information for Surviving Same-Sex Partners and Spouses Previously Excluded from Social Security Survivor’s Benefits Because of Unconstitutional State Marriage Laws | Lambda Legal

Will Connecticut respect my marriage? Will other states?

Yes. Connecticut will respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples regardless of where the marriage was performed, just as all states will now respect the marriage of a same-sex couple married in Connecticut.

Will the federal government respect my marriage?

Yes. Thanks to the recent demise of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Windsor v. United States (133. S.Ct. 2675 (2013)), the federal government will recognize and respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples.

DOMA, a federal statute which defined marriage exclusively as the union between one man and one woman, once prevented same-sex spouses from accessing the 1000+ federal laws pertaining to marriage, including taxes, Social Security (including SSDI and SSI), immigration, bankruptcy, FMLA, federal student financial aid, Medicaid, Medicare, veteran’s benefits, and TANF. Happily, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional. GLAD filed the first comprehensive challenge to DOMA in 2009, Gill v. OPM (699 F.Supp.2d 374 (2010)), and the legal framework developed in that case was used in many subsequent cases, Windsor includedGLAD was also responsible for coordinating the Windsor amici briefs.

Unfortunately, one issue that has yet to be definitively resolved by Windsor and Obergefell concerns spousal benefits and self-insured health plans. While Connecticut state law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, self-insured health plans are governed by federal law. Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination statute, only prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin—sexual orientation is not explicitly included. As a result, some self-insured employers claim they can legally deny benefits to same-sex spouses.

Luckily, this issue is far from settled. Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) took the position that Title VII’s prohibition against ‘sex discrimination’ encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation (see Baldwin v. Foxx, Agency No. 2012-24738-FAA-3 (July 15, 2015)).

If your employer is discriminating against you in spousal healthcare benefits on the basis of sexual orientation, contact GLAD Answers.

What happens if we need to end our marriage?

After Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex spouses everywhere should be able to dissolve their marriages on the same terms as different-sex spouses. Connecticut applies its divorce statutes to same-sex couples (see e.g., Barse v. Pasternak, 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 142 at *24 (2015) (referring to lesbian couple’s divorce)).

However, spouses should note that when Connecticut courts divide marital property (Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-81(c)) and award alimony (Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-82(a)), one of the factors a judge considers is length of marriage. The Connecticut Supreme Court has specifically held that a judge cannot take a period of premarital cohabitation into account (Loughlin v. Loughlin, 280 Conn. 632, 645 (2006) (“consideration of a period of cohabitation that precedes a marriage as part of the statutory factor of “length of the marriage” in a dissolution action is improper”)). Unfortunately for spouses whose partnership pre-dates marriage equality, the length of the marriage may not accurately reflect the true length of the relationship, resulting in an unbalanced division of assets.

If you are going through divorce proceedings in Connecticut and believe your division of assets may be unfairly affected by length of marriage, contact Glad Answers.

Can Connecticut same-sex couples get married anywhere else?

Yes. Thanks to Obergefell v. Hodges, all states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

What steps can a couple take to legally safeguard their relationship in Connecticut?

There are various legal documents that can protect a couple’s relationship, regardless of whether the couple has no formal legal relationship or is already in a marriage.

  1. Relationship Agreement or Contract: A couple has the option of drafting a written cohabitation agreement, outlining their respective rights with regards to property, finances, and other aspects of their relationship. In 1987, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that a cohabitation agreement between an unmarried heterosexual couple was an express contract which could be enforced according to the ordinary rules of contract when the couple separated. There is every reason to believe that the same result will apply to the contract of a same-sex couple. While the court held that contracts could be oral or in writing, this ruling provides a great incentive for couples to sort out their affairs in writing before a separation.
  2. Document Designating a Non-Legally Related Adult to Have Certain Rights and Responsibilities: Connecticut law allows any adult to grant another adult the ability to make certain decisions on their behalf. Although the protections this law provides fall far short of those associated with marriage, they may provide some peace of mind for couples under a narrow set of circumstances.

To grant your partner (or anyone else) this decision-making power, you must sign, date, and acknowledge a designation document before a notary public and two witnesses. You can revoke the document at any time by destroying it or by executing a new document. The designation document must be honored in the following circumstances:

  • In The Workplace: If you experience an emergency and you or someone else calls your partner at work to inform them, their employer must notify them of the phone call.
  • In Court and Administrative Proceedings Involving Crime Victims: If you are the victim of a homicide, your partner is granted employment protection for missing work in order to attend court proceedings. Your partner is also entitled to request and receive advance notice of the terms of plea agreements with the perpetrator, to make a statement in court prior to the sentencing of the perpetrator, and to make a statement at parole hearings of the perpetrator. If your partner is wholly or partly dependent on your income, they may seek compensation from the Office of Victim Services.
  • In Automobile Ownership: If you own a car, your partner assumes ownership upon your death.
  • In Health Care Settings: If it comes time to make end of life decisions and your wishes are not written in a living will, your partner will be among those the doctor will consult regarding the removal of life support. Before removing life support, the doctor must make reasonable efforts to notify your partner. In addition, your partner has priority over all of your other representatives or family members when it comes to making anatomical gifts on your behalf, with the exception of a surviving spouse.
  • In Psychiatric Hospitals: Your partner is among the list of people who may consent to medical or surgical procedures for you, if you have been involuntarily admitted and are unable to consent yourself
  • In Nursing Homes: Finally, the act entitles your partner to (1) receive advance notice of involuntary, non-emergency room transfer, including Medicaid patients’ transfer into non-private rooms; (2) participate in any consultations prior to any contested transfer; (3) have private visits with you; and (4) organize and participate in patient social events or community activities. 

Other documents, discussed below, allow your partner to share financial, medical, and end of life decisions. The rights and responsibilities granted to your partner by the designation document discussed above overlap with some of those set forth in the documents discussed below. It is unclear how the law will handle these potential conflicts, and therefore any preference for who should carry out specific obligations should be clearly noted in all relevant documents.

  1. Power of Attorney: A couple can choose to grant each other the durable power of attorney, allowing one partner to make financial decisions on the other’s behalf in the event of incapacity or disability.

The law provides a “short form” which allows you to check off the kinds of transactions you wish your partner (your “attorney-in- fact”) to perform. These include: (a) real estate matters; (b) chattel and goods transactions; (c) bond, share and commodity transactions; (d) banking transactions; (e) business operating transactions; (f) insurance transactions; (g) estate transactions; (h) claims and litigation; (i) personal relationships and affairs; (j) benefits from military service; (k) records, reports and statements; and (l) all other matters designated by you, with the exception of health care decisions. Those can be delegated to a “health care representative,” a process described below.

The power of attorney can either become effective immediately or in the event of your incapacity, and it can have a short termination date, long termination date, or no termination date at all. It should be witnessed by two disinterested individuals and notarized. The notary may also serve as a witness. The power of attorney form must stay in your partner’s possession.

  1. Health Care Representative: A couple can also choose to appoint each other as health care representatives, allowing them to make medical decisions on one another’s behalf in the event of an emergency. You may state your preference about withdrawal of life support, types of medical care, anatomical gifts, or any other limits on your health care representative’s authority in the same document. The document must be executed and witnessed by two adults, and must be revoked the same way. If you have no health care representative, medical care providers will look to next- of-kin or any adult listed in your designation document (discussed above) to make medical decisions for you.
  1. Appointment of Conservator: You may also choose to appoint you partner as your conservator. A conservator manages your financial and/or daily affairs when you are no longer capable of managing them yourself, either because of old age or mental or physical incapacity. Note that all conservator nominations are subject to the scrutiny of the probate court at the time you are deemed incapable or incompetent.
  1. Will: Without a will, a deceased unmarried person’s property passes to: (1) their children; (2) their family, or; (3) if next of kin cannot be located, to the state. If you wish to provide for others, such as your partner, a will is essential. Even if you have few possessions, you can name in the will the person who will administer your estate.

In addition, if you have children, you can nominate their future guardian and “trustee for asset management” in the will. This nomination will be evaluated by the Probate Court.

  1. Funeral Planning Documents: Upon death, a person’s body is given to their spouse or their next of kin. This can mean that a person’s own partner has no right to remove the body, write an obituary, or make plans for a final resting place. To avoid this problem, you can create a document (witnessed and notarized) that designates the person you want to be able to have custody and control of your remains. Some people include these instructions as part of a will, but since a will may not be found for days after death, it is preferable to give the instructions directly to the person you want to take care of matters, as well as to family.

Does a person need an attorney to get these documents?

GLAD recommends working with an attorney on these documents.

Although forms are available, the form may not be suited to your individual needs and wishes. Moreover, an attorney may be able to better help effectuate your goals, for example, by drafting a will in a way which is more likely to deter a will contest by unhappy family members, or an appointment of a health care agent with very specific instructions. In addition, an attorney may help to navigate the legal uncertainties flowing from the areas of overlap between these documents. GLAD Answers can provide referrals to attorneys who are members of GLAD’s Lawyer Referral Service.

What standards should same-sex couples with children who are breaking up maintain?

Same-sex couples with children who are breaking up should:

  1. Support the rights of LGBTQ+ parents;
  2. Honor existing relationships regardless of legal labels;
  3. Honor the children’s existing parental relationships after the break-up;
  4. Maintain continuity for the children;
  5. Seek a voluntary resolution;
  6. Remember that breaking up is hard to do;
  7. Investigate allegations of abuse;
  8. Not allow the absence of agreements or legal relationships to determine outcomes;
  9. Treat litigation as a last resort; and
  10. Refuse to resort to homophobic/transphobic laws and sentiments to achieve a desired result.

For more detailed information about these standards see the publication Protecting Families: Standards for LGBTQ+ Families at: Protecting Families: Standards for LGBTQ+ Families | GLAD