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Marriage & Relationships | Marriage | Massachusetts

Massachusetts Marriage Q&A

Can same-sex couples marry in Massachusetts?

In an historic decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on November 18, 2003, that same-sex couples have the right to civil marriage in Massachusetts. The holding in GLAD’s case, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (440 Mass. 309, 2003), was the first of its kind in this country by a state high court.

Over a decade 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.

Will Massachusetts respect my marriage? Will other states?

Yes. Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has also ruled that civil unions (Elia-Warnken v. Elia, 463 Mass. 29 (2012) (Vermont civil union creates rights identical to marriage, will be treated as a marriage in Massachusetts)) and registered domestic partnerships (Hunter v. Rose, 463 Mass. 488 (2012) (California domestic partnership creates rights identical to marriage, will be treated as a marriage in Massachusetts)) with rights and obligations functionally identical to marriage will be accorded the same respect as marriages by Massachusetts’ courts.

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.

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. Massachusetts explicitly applies its divorce statutes to same-sex couples (see, e.g., Cerutti-O’Brien v. Cerutti-O’Brien, 77 Mass. App. Ct. 166, 170 (2010) (applying divorce statute specifying “husband” and “wife” to a same-sex couple)).

However, spouses should note that when Massachusetts courts divide marital property and award alimony, one of the factors a judge considers is length of marriage (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 208, secs. 34, 49). 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. With regards to alimony, Massachusetts courts may (but are not required to) consider a couple’s premarital cohabitation if there is evidence of economic partnership (see Mass. Gen. Laws, chap 208, sec. 48).

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

Can Massachusetts 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.