Can same-sex couples marry in New Hampshire?

Yes. On June 3, 2009, Governor Lynch signed a marriage equality bill (House Bill 436, An Act Relative to Civil Marriage and Civil Unions) that extended the right to marry to same-sex couples. The bill became effective January 1, 2010, simultaneously ending the availability of New Hampshire civil unions on the same date. On January 1, 2011, all existing New Hampshire civil unions were transformed into marriages.

Four 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.

For more information about getting married in New Hampshire, consult GLAD’s publication, How to Get Married in New Hampshire.

Will New Hampshire respect my marriage? Will other states?

Yes. New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire.

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 New Hampshire 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 ____ 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 legally safeguard their relationship in New Hampshire?

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. Although the New Hampshire Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the subject, these agreements should be enforced like any other contract. A number of states, Massachusetts included, explicitly enforce cohabitation agreements. Although a couple can choose to use a cohabitation agreement to make plans for the custody and support of children, a New Hampshire court will not uphold any agreement it finds to contravene the child’s best interests.
  2. Durable 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 requirements are minimal: any competent person may appoint another person as their “attorney-in-fact,” although the power of attorney form must be signed and notarized. If no appointment is made, a family member will be empowered to make decisions for the incapacitated individual.
  3. Advance Directive for Health Care: A couple can choose to each create an “advance directive,” allowing them to make medical decisions on one another’s behalf in the event of an emergency. Absent an advance directive, medical care providers look to next- of-kin to make health care decisions for an incapacitated individual. If an unmarried couple wants to make decisions for one another, they need an advance directive.

An advance directive has two parts: a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Living Will. In the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, you appoint a person to act as your health care agent and make medical decisions for you when you are incapacitated. You may also express your desires about end of life issues, including nutrition, hydration, and other life-sustaining treatments. The Living Will is a short statement about whether you want life-sustaining treatment continued when you are near death or permanently unconscious. You should give a copy of the advance directive to your doctors and may also consider giving it to family members.

An advance directive may either be signed by yourself and two witnesses, or signed by just yourself in the presence of a notary public. The following individuals do not count as witnesses: your spouse or heir, beneficiaries under any will or trust you may have, and the person you are appointing as your health care agent. Only one witness can be an employee of your healthcare provider. An advance directive can only be revoked by you.

If you later become incapacitated and a guardian is appointed for you, the appointing court should not revoke your health care agent’s authority unless there is clear and convincing evidence that doing so would be in your best interests.

  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 not on this list, such as your partner, a will is essential. Even if you have few possessions, you can name who will administer your estate in your will. If you have children, you can also nominate someone to be their future guardian in a will.
  2. Funeral Planning Documents: Upon death, a person’s body is given to his or her next-of-kin. This can mean that a person’s own partner has no right to remove the body or make plans for a final resting place. To avoid confusion and persuade relatives to honor your wishes, you can leave explicit written directions giving another person (such as your partner or a friend) control over the funeral and burial arrangements. While this document is not binding, it should help avoid complications in any but the most adversarial families. 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 members.
  3. Guardianship: New Hampshire’s broad guardianship laws allow, among other things, an individual to nominate another person as the guardian of their person, estate, or both.68 The advantage of nominating a guardian in advance is that you are selecting the person to take over all aspects of your financial matters.

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 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. New Hampshire explicitly applies its divorce statutes to same-sex couples (see, e.g., In re Munson & Beal, 2016 N.H. LEXIS 180 (2016) (applying divorce statute to a same-sex couple)).

However, spouses should note that when New Hampshire courts divide marital property and award alimony, one of the factors a judge considers is length of marriage (NH RSA 458:16-a, II(a); 19, IV). 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. A recent New Hampshire Supreme Court case, In the Matter of Munson & Beal (2016 N.H. LEXIS 180 (2016)), addressed this issue and ruled that a judge may consider premarital cohabitation when dividing marital property. GLAD submitted an amicus brief in the case, Munson Amicus Brief.

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

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 LGBT Families

Does New Hampshire still allow civil unions?

Not anymore. Effective January 1, 2010, New Hampshire stopped issuing civil union licenses; and effective January 1, 2011, all existing New Hampshire civil unions were converted into marriages by operation of law. If you have a civil union (or registered domestic partnership) from another state, New Hampshire will grant you the same rights and benefits, and hold you to the same responsibilities, as a married couple in New Hampshire. However, with the exception of Social Security, the federal government will not recognize your civil union.