The Impact of Obergefell on California Same-Sex Couples

same-sex couples

The issue of same-sex marriage is now resolved nationwide, with the Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Same-sex couples can marry in any state, and their marriages must be recognized by all other states. Same-sex marriage has been legal in California since 2013, but the Supreme Court ruling does have an effect on same-sex couples married in California.

In Obergefell, the Supreme Court held, in a 5–4 decision, that:

  • Every state must recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states; and
  • State bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

Obergefell is a consolidation of four cases addressing bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the lead case, married his terminally ill partner, John Arthur, in Maryland, shortly before Arthur passed away. But the couple lived, and Arthur died, in Ohio, which did not allow same-sex marriage or recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Obergefell wanted his own name listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate, and sued to challenge Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Court held that under Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection and due process of law, states must recognize same-sex marriages. Marriage is a fundamental right, and that right extends to same-sex couples.

California Law

California recognized same-sex marriage briefly in 2008, and continuously since 2013. In June 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that barring same-sex couples from marrying violated the state constitution. In November of 2008, however, voters passed Proposition 8, which amended California’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

The Ninth Circuit ruled the ban unconstitutional, and in 2013, the case advanced to the United States Supreme Court. The Court, though, declined to rule on the constitutionality of the ban, and dismissed the case based on lack of standing. This meant that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling stood, and same-sex marriage was legal in California.

Effects on California Couples

Although same-sex marriage has been possible in California for some time, the decision in Obergefell does change things for same-sex California couples. Previous to Obergefell, 36 states, including California, and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage. But 14 states did not. And if a same-sex couple, married in California, moved to one of those 14 states, their marriage would not be recognized. Hence, a spouse could be ineligible for health care, survivorship, and other spousal benefits.

If a spouse was injured or became ill on a vacation out of state, the other spouse would risk not being allowed into the hospital room. Moving or traveling to a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage would have also affected parental rights and adoption issues. Additionally, spouses who moved to a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage would not be able to obtain a divorce, either.

Now, same-sex couples can travel and move out of California without fearing that their marriages will not be recognized. However, the opinion did not address the issue of discrimination against same-sex couples, and did not list sexual orientation as a protected class. Therefore, same-sex couples may still have to worry about facing discrimination in the workplace, in housing, or in public accommodations.

Contact a California Family Law Attorney Today

The issues surrounding same-sex marriage may be confusing during this time of change in the law. If you have a question regarding your marriage, please contact the skilled San Jose family law attorneys at The Law Offices of Steven E. Springer for a free initial consultation in Morgan Hill, San Jose, or Fremont.

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