Cultural attitudes toward same-gender marriage and civil unions are shifting dramatically, as states move to recognize””in some fashion””the rights of same-gender couples. New York’s recent passage of a same-gender marriage law made it the sixth and largest state to legalize same-gender marriage in the country.
But same-gender marriage laws are state-based, which brings to the table a myriad of legal issues when a same-gender couple legally married in one state relocates to another state without legal recognition of domestic arrangements.
So what does it mean for you if you were married in Massachusetts or New York? Will you have the same rights if you end up living in a state that does not recognize same-gender unions, as a marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership?
Not in Colorado. As of today, Colorado has a state constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage, and it also does not recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships between same-gender couples. So a marriage in another state that recognizes same-gender marriages will not be recognized in Colorado.
That does not mean that same-gender couples are without rights in our state. There are several key legal rights for same-gender couples in Colorado.
While your same-gender relationship may not be recognized as a legal union in Colorado, you do have rights to property and assets. The designated beneficiary agreement enables you to file a form with your county clerk that legally makes your significant other the recipient of your benefits and””in case you don’t have a will or testament””your assets upon your death. While not as all-encompassing as other estate planning measures, it is both legally recognized and cost-effective.
You can pick up a copy of the designated beneficiary agreement form at many family law practices, including Divorce Matters, or download the form from your city or county website. You can also find more information at www.designatedbeneficiaries.org.
The term “prenuptial” is technically inaccurate because the marriage is not legally recognized, but the intent and purpose of this document is the same. If you, as a same-gender couple, are planning to enter a long-term relationship, you may want to speak with an attorney to explore asset protection through a variation of the prenuptial agreement that applies to same-gender couples.
As with all prenuptial agreements, you will delineate exactly what assets will be joint or kept separate throughout the life of your relationship, and you will legally define how you will divide assets and debts should the relationship end. Although you may not be recognized as married in the eyes of the law, the legal document will still be binding.
Same-Gender Second-Parent Adoptions
The third right same-gender couples have is not related to marriage or divorce but rather starting a family. Some states do not allow same-gender couples to adopt children together, which leaves same-gender parents open to a variety of legal loopholes””from challenging family members to lack of authority with their children’s caregivers or schools. It may even impede a same-gender parent’s right to visit his or her child in the hospital.
In Colorado, same-gender couples are allowed to adopt children, regardless of gender orientation or biological connection. Colorado same-gender adoption laws recognize both parents as having full and legal custody.
According to the last census, there were 16,114 same-gender couples living in the state of Colorado, and 3,690 of these couples were raising children together. While same-gender marriage itself is not recognized in Colorado, there are other rights available that protect the interests of same-gender couples. As we watch the environment regarding the same-gender marriage change around us””and as more and more states follow New York’s lead””we will likely see more changes to the law and legal protections for same-gender couples in the future.