Can same-sex couples marry in Maine?

Yes! On November 6, 2012, Maine became the first state to obtain marriage rights for same-sex couples through an initiative process rather than a court case or vote by a legislature. Maine Question 1, An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses For Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom,50 was approved by the voters of Maine 53 to 47 percent.

Three 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 Maine 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.

Will Maine respect my marriage? Will other states?

Yes. Maine 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 Maine.

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 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 Massachusetts 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.

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

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

Whether the couple is married or in a Maine registered domestic partnership or does not have an legal relationship, they can protect their relationship through the following:

  1. Relationship Agreement or Contract: Agreements regarding property and finances should be respected and honored according to ordinary rules of contract law. The Maine Law Court has not yet specifically ruled on the subject, but that result comports with Maine contract law and the law of other states that have found such agreements to be enforceable.
  2. Durable Power of Attorney: Any competent person may appoint another person as their “attorney-in-fact” for financial and/or other matters in the event they become incapacitated or disabled. If no such appointment is made, then a “family” member will be empowered to make decisions for the disabled or incapacitated individual.

A person may also nominate their guardian or conservator in the same document. This is a longer-term appointment that takes priority over the attorney-in-fact. This choice can only be rejected by a court for “good cause or disqualification.” The mere fact that a family member is not named as the guardian or conservator does not constitute good cause.

  1. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: Medical care providers often look to next-of-kin to make health care decisions for an incapacitated individual. If an unmarried person wants someone other than their legal family to make these decisions, then a durable power of attorney for health care is a critical source of protection. In Maine, a person can appoint a health care agent to make decisions for him or her immediately, or upon incompetence. It must be signed by two witnesses (not including the person appointed as attorney-in-fact). It can only be revoked while they are still competent. Otherwise, it must be revoked in court.

While a written Durable Power of Attorney provides the most certainty that a person will be cared for by the person they want to make those decisions, Maine law also has a procedure by which “an adult who shares an emotional, physical and financial relationship with the patient similar to that of a spouse” can make health care decisions for an incapacitated person.

This provision might be cumbersome to enforce but provides a way for a partner to be involved in their incapacitated partner’s health care decisions absent documentation.

Within this Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or in a separate document called an “Advance Directive,” a person may address end of life issues like artificial nutrition and other life-sustaining treatments. The Attorney General’s Office has a model advance directive posted on their website, Advance Health-Care Directive Form | .

While a written Advance Directive provides the most certainty that a person’s wishes will be followed, Maine law also allows a procedure for a person to make end of life decisions for another if they can prove they are family members. Spouses are given first priority, followed by “an adult who shares an emotional, physical and financial relationship with the patient similar to that of a spouse. ”This provision might be cumbersome to enforce but provides a way for a partner to be involved in their partner’s end of life decision.

  1. Will: Without a will and without having registered as a domestic partner, a deceased unmarried person’s property passes to: (1) their children; (2) their family; (3) if next-of-kin cannot be located, to the state. If the person wishes to provide for others, such as their partner, a will is essential. Even if a person has few possessions, they can name in the will who will administer their estate. If a person has children, they can nominate a guardian of the child which will become effective upon death. Such nominations are highly regarded by courts although they are not binding on the court.
  2. Funeral Planning Documents: Upon death, a person’s next-of-kin is given control of the deceased’s body. This means that a person’s own partner has no automatic right to remove the body or make plans for a final resting place.

If a person has either (1) registered as a domestic partner under the state law; and/or (2) designated in writing that another person is to have custody and control of their remains (such as their partner or a friend), then that person will have control over the body as well as funeral arrangements and the selection of a final resting place.81 It is infinitely preferable to prepare funeral planning documents in advance than to leave instructions as part of a will since a will may not be found for days after death.

Does a person need an attorney to get these documents?

GLAD recommends working with an attorney on these documents.

Although some forms are available, the form may not be suited to your individual needs and wishes and may not conform to the specific requirements of Maine law, which would render them invalid and unenforceable.

Moreover, attorneys may be able to 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. In addition, many people find attorney assistance critical because same-sex couples are afforded different tax treatment from married heterosexual couples. Failure to consider tax consequences can lead to enormous difficulties upon death or separation.

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.

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