Thursday, January 9, 2014
The Four Corners: Gay, Married and Confused in 2014!
Imagine going to the beautiful Four Corners where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. This quirk of state boundary lines creates the only place where 4 states meet at one point. This spot also underscores the growing complexity of being gay and married in 2014 America:
Let's say you are gay and married:
So let's start with our foot in New Mexico. Good news! New Mexico recognizes your marriage. You and your spouse can file state taxes jointly, have your names changed on state forms easily, adopt together, be recognized as the legal parent of your step-children, not have to testify in court against your spouse, apply for immigration for your non-citizen spouse, be granted a divorce, have inheritance rights, and so on and so on. You and the mister/missus and kids get the whole treasure box of 1000+ Federal benefits plus the dozens/hundreds of state ones.
But wait! If you're a member of the Navajo Nation, there is a complication. New Mexico recognizes your marriage, but the Navajo Nation does not for purposes of tribal benefits. The Navajo Nation spans parts of New Mexico and Arizona.
Next let's shift our foot over into Arizona. Alas, no marriage for you! Arizona's constitution specifically bans same-sex marriages and their recognition.
But wait! After the 2013 US Supreme Court ruling regarding DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), the Federal government does recognize your marriage if you got married someplace outside of Arizona. You can at least file your Federal taxes jointly. Arizona though will still require you file your state taxes separately and has created a new form to be used by married couples...who aren't married in Arizona but are married in the USA. Headache? Perhaps the pending lawsuit to overturn Arizona's ban on marriage will clear things up.
Next let our foot scoot over to neighboring Utah. Things are even more complicated here. Two-thirds of deeply conservative Utah's voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution stomping out the specter of same-sex marriage. Alas, a Federal judge ruled in December 2013 that this state ban violated the US Constitution based on the DOMA ruling. Hundreds of couples scurried to marry. The state sought a stop to the marriages while it appealed the ruling. The original judge said no. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals said no too. Finally, the US Supreme Court in January stopped the Utah wedding bells until the case gets settled.
So, what if you married in Utah in December? Are you still married? Will the state recognize you as married while the appeals process goes on? Who knows?!
It gets even more complicated. After the DOMA ruling, the Federal Department of Defense began granting married same-sex couples the same benefits it provides other married couples. So, if you're a soldier and got hitched recently in New Mexico, no problem! But, the Department of Defense is stumped too whether these recent Utah marriages are legal or not. So it isn't sure it will grant your family military benefits if you got married in December in Utah.
Add to this situation that Utah's state government hasn't decided either how to handle state taxes for same-sex couples married in Utah...or married in another state too. Better seek an accountant this year!
Whew! Let's end our journey over in Colorado, the land of Rocky Mountain Highs...cough cough. Yes, recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado but not same-sex marriages. On the other hand, the state does offer civil unions along with its tasty brownies and ski slopes. If you get a civil union, you get most of the state same benefits to civil marriage except the name. Even opposite-sex couples can get a civil union in Colorado. Plus, the state will recognize your civil union if performed in another state.
But wait! You're married; not in a civil union. Now things get tricky. Colorado's legislation makes it clear that a civil union is not a marriage. So you'll need to get a civil union to go with your marriage. Are you a bigamist if you have a civil union and marriage with the same person? Consider for a moment that North Dakota's Attorney General recently ruled that a ND man married to another man who lives in another state can marry a woman in North Dakota without getting divorced first from his first marriage to his husband.
But back to Colorado. A legislator just filed a bill that will allow married same-sex couples to file their state taxes jointly. If, however, you only have a civil union then you will still have to file separate state tax forms.
On the good side, this Colorado situation is so new that I bet there is not a single wedding etiquette book that says you cannot register twice: once for your civil union ceremony and again for your marriage out-of-state. Twice the fun. Twice the loot. Right?
Sigh! Is your head spinning? Well, better be careful. If you fall and are knocked unconscious, in which state you land may determine if your spouse/'friend' gets to stay with you in the hospital and make medical decisions for you.