Same Sex Marriage Causes Rippling Effects Through Laws You May Not Realize

Many comments have been made both rejoicing and decrying Obergefell v Hodges—the U.S. Supreme Court ruling providing for same-gender marriage–especially regarding the social impact  But the ruling likewise effects numerous other laws requiring modification over the course of time.

Of course, an initial impact was evident in clerks changing marriage license forms to provide appropriate language–crossing off or adding “fe” to “female” or “male” to match gender.  Our generation and the next will slowly revert from “wife” or “husband” to the more generic “spouse” and our laws will likewise.

In Michigan, spouses are granted certain privileges over non-spouses, or live-in partners or significant others.  With Same Sex Marriage, these privileges will likewise be available for the new marriages.  In fact, the Michigan Couple from the Obergefell case were banned from both adopting a child, as they were both females.  Upon marrying they will be allowed to adopt.  Curiously, what is not explicitly addressed is whether two unmarried females may adopt.

The law will need to be clarified.

Did you know, in Michigan, you cannot disinherit your spouse?  While you can properly draft a will to disinherit one or all your children, you cannot do so with your wife.  Under the law, the spouse can elect to receive ½ the estate, regardless what the Will states.  This law will need to be clarified to the more generic “spouse.”

Additionally (you may have noticed in the law) Michigan is one of the few states recognizing Dower—the right of a wife to live in property owned by her husband even after he dies.  (Unfortunately, men, this is a one-way street:  Michigan does not recognize “curtsey”—the male equivalent of dower.)  A curious bi-product of Obergefell, is that two females would each have dower rights from their marriage, but two males would not!  This law will need significant overhaul, the most likely being an elimination of dower in Michigan.

Same Sex Marriages will recognize governmental benefits such as survivor social security benefits, filing joint taxes, and veteran benefits.  Equally, they will retain rights within divorce, such as spousal support, pension benefits, and–if children are adopted by both—child support, visiting time and custodial rights.

As the hype dies down, and the social impact wanes, we will continue to see areas where the law will either need a slightly obvious nudge—changing forms—to legislative action involving modification—dower, divorce and estates.