President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act on December 13, 2022, providing that the federal government recognizes any marriage between two individuals that is valid under state law. The new law prevents states from refusing to recognize out-of-state marriages based on sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.
"It secures the federal rights that come with marriage, like when your loved one gets sick and you're legally recognized as next of kin." -President Biden
The legislation was intended to address fears that the U.S. Supreme Court might reverse its decision recognizing same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurrence that the court should reconsider Obergefell v. Hodges—the ruling that protects same-sex marriage. The Respect for Marriage Act repeals the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
Impact on Employee Benefits
Same-sex couples can continue enjoying company benefits just as opposite-sex couples do. The new law means employers and employees can have more confidence that same-sex marriage will remain legal in the United States.
Door Remains Open for States to Define Marriage
Currently, same-sex marriages are licensed in and recognized by all U.S. states and the District of Columbia, as well as all U.S. territories except American Samoa. The new law offers less protection than Obergefell because it does not require states to let same-sex couples marry. That means if the Supreme Court overturned the Obergefell ruling, conservative states could prohibit same-sex marriages. LGBTQ advocates said their rights felt much more fragile after the court overturned Roe vs. Wade this year. Currently, 35 states have statutes or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage that would take effect if Obergefell were overturned.
Rights for Married Couples
Legal marriage comes with many federal rights and benefits, including:
Filing your taxes jointly as a couple.
Receiving your spouse's Social Security benefits.
Being named as a dependent on your spouse's employer-sponsored health insurance.
Right to visit your spouse in a hospital or prison.
Next-of-kin status for emergency medical decisions or filing wrongful-death claims.
Custodial rights to children, shared property, child support and alimony after divorce.
Tax-free transfer of property between spouses.
Joint filing of bankruptcy permitted.
Funeral and bereavement leave when your spouse dies.
Joint adoption and foster care.
Legal status with stepchildren.
Permission to make funeral arrangements for a deceased spouse.
Right of survivorship of custodial trust.
Right to change your surname upon marriage.
Right to enter into a prenuptial agreement.
Right to inheritance of your spouse's property.
Spousal privilege in court cases.
Payment of wages and workers' compensation benefits to the spouse after a worker's death.
Religious Liberties Under New Law
The Respect for Marriage Act preserves religious liberties or conscience protections that are available under the U.S. Constitution and federal law. It does not require religious organizations to provide goods or services that recognize or celebrate a marriage. In addition, it does not sanction under federal law any marriage between more than two individuals.
Resolving Complex Same-Sex Family Law Issues in Pennsylvania
Since same-sex marriage is relatively new in Pennsylvania, there may not be many attorneys working in the state that have the necessary knowledge to handle family law issues specific to same-sex couples. Fortunately, our team at Fiffik Law Group has experience in these matters and can help you and your spouse with prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and resolve any disputes with efficiency. Contact us or call (412) 391-1014 to speak with one of our experienced attorneys.