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Varying state laws on same-sex marriage cause confusion

Over the last couple of decades, attitudes and laws have changed drastically for same-sex couples. For example, Massachusetts set the standard for several other states by legalizing same-sex marriage years ago. While other states followed suit, there are still almost 40 states that have not legalized marriage between same-sex couples. Unfortunately, such variance in state laws causes’ mass confusion for same-sex couples, their employees, and, occasionally, their healthcare providers.

The issues come to light when a same-sex couple is married in a state that has legalized same-sex marriage, but then moves or commutes to a state to work that does not. For example, the couple could live in one state where same-sex marriage is allowed, but work in another where it is not. Does the employee qualify for family leave that is provided as a result of a federal mandate? Does the spouse of the employee qualify for health benefits or workers’ compensation?

The short answer is that, as a result of the Defense of Marriage Act, states that have not legalized same-sex marriage do not have to recognize a union that took place in a state that does (or district). This prevents same-sex parents from having both their names listed on a birth certificate or one spouse to even visit another during a hospitalization. Life is very complicated for a couple married in one state who is connected to or moves to another state with different laws.

However, organizations who support same-sex marriage vow to fight for equality for everyone. According to some reports, the majority of Americans are for marriage equality. If all states treated the issue as Massachusetts, the confusion surrounding work and survivor benefits for same-sex spouses would be all but eliminated.

Source: The Washington Times, “Irreconcilable differences: Conflicting marriage laws a problem for gay couples,” Cheryl Wetzstein, June 3, 2013

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