This summer, the United States Supreme Court finally ruled in the Obergefell case that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in every state, and that to deny that right to any same-sex couple is unconstitutional. This landmark decision changed the legal landscape for same-sex partners everywhere, and in every realm–marriage, parenting, employment benefits, Social Security, veterans’ rights, retirement, and more. Because of the 2013 decisions in Windsor and Perry, all of these rights will be recognized on both the state and federal levels, and same-sex married couples have the same rights under federal law that opposite-sex couples have always enjoyed.
California registered domestic partners do not have the same federal rights as married couples, nor do we have any reason to believe that will change any time soon. If you are registered as domestic partners and are not married, consider going ahead with a legal marriage, which will protect your relationship while you are together and provide important advantages should you part ways.
Another critical note: it’s still very important for same-sex parents to complete stepparent adoptions or obtain parentage judgments to protect the rights of non-biological and non-legal parents. The California marital presumption establishes parentage in a non-biological parent for all California purposes, and the federal government will recognize parentage under the Windsor decision. However, parentage presumptions are not the same everywhere, and in some states the fact that a non-biological parent isn’t genetically related to a child can cause that state not to recognize a presumed parent. An adoption or parentage order can prevent this—either one is a court judgment that is entitled to respect under the Full Faith and Credit clause of the United States Constitution. Make sure you take steps to protect your family by seeking a judgment.
And don’t forget, marriage is not something to rush into! It’s not going to be taken away again, so take your time and get educated about what it means to you to get married. If you’re thinking about tying the knot, come in and learn about what marriage means to you from a legal perspective, talk about whether you might need a prenuptial agreement, and have your questions answered before you walk down the aisle.