By: Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq.
As a Maryland domestic relations lawyer for over twenty-seven years, I have been navigating the frustrating situations of representing gay persons in break-ups of long term relationships without them having the benefits of being married. Often times, these clients would have no rights to property, money, retirement benefits, and health insurance even though they devoted their life to someone else in an intimate relationship. I’ve also often been retained to create “living together agreements” to give rights to gay persons who have committed themselves to each other in case they should ever separate from one another.
Now, the inequities associated with gay persons not being allowed to marry are eliminated.
The Supreme Court’s Decision: Obergefell vs. Hodges
June 26, 2015 is a historic day. With a closely divided Supreme Court decision, (5-4), The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that our United States Constitution requires that same-sex couples have the right to marry no matter where they live. No longer may states prohibit gay marriages. No longer is the right to marry only a right of heterosexual couples. No longer can same-sex married couples be discriminated against when trying to adopt a child.
This decision of the Supreme Court, Obergefell vs. Hodges, actually consists of four consolidated appeals from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But as per the tradition of the Supreme Court, the case with the lowest case number has become the name and the legal citation of the case. Now, Obergefell (pronounced Oh-ber-guh-fell) will become as famous a name as Brown (the lead plaintiff in the historic school desegregation decision) and Roe (the pseudonym of the litigant in the case that legalized abortion nationwide).
The Obergefell decision of the Supreme Court was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joining the majority. It is no surprise that the court’s most conservative members, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented; they each wrote a separate opinion explaining why.
What this Means for Same-Sex Couples in the U.S.
Prior to June 26th, same-sex couples were allowed to marry in only 37 states and the District of Columbia. Now, thanks to the Obergefell decision, gay couples will no longer have their fundamental right to marry restricted or prohibited by any state. All the privileges and rights associated with marriage are finally available to all, and the relationships of loving, devoted same-sex couples have been afforded the dignity such relationships deserve. In the words of Justice Kennedy:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Consult with a Maryland Domestic Relations Attorney
As always, whether gay or straight, when separating and divorcing and even before marrying, you should seek the advice of a domestic relations lawyer. Please call 301-563-6685 or fill out an online contact form to meet with me or any of the experienced family law attorneys at Andalman & Flynn. We have offices in Silver Spring and Rockville and serve domestic relations clients all throughout Maryland.