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Laws Governing Family Law And Same Sex Marriage Transformed by Supreme Court Rulings

The traditional definition of an American family has shifted dramatically after the United States Supreme Court issued two landmark decisions relating to the issues of same sex marriage equality in the cases of United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. These rulings will drastically change various areas of the law.

In family law, it will change adoption of children by same-sex parents, parentage actions, guardianship actions, the ability to marry a member of the same sex, and divorce/dissolution proceedings. In addition to these changes, same sex married couples should review their retirement and health plans, as well as, as their estate plans and tax filings to ensure their partners are also being covered under the new benefits now available to them. Federal employees and military spouses should also review their employment benefits package to take advantage of the newly available federal benefits.

In United States v. Windsor, the Court held that the Federal Statute labeled as the "Defense of Marriage Act" (commonly referred to as DOMA) is in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. More specifically, the court ruled unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act's Section 3, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman only for purposes of over 1,000 federal laws and regulations. Justice Kennedy, who delivered the opinion of the Court states,

DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code. The particular case at hand concerns the estate tax, but DOMA is more than a simple determination of what should or should not be allowed as an estate tax refund. Among the over 1,000 statutes and numerous federal regulations that DOMA controls are laws pertaining to Social Security, housing, taxes, criminal sanctions, copyright, and veterans' benefits.

Thus, the Court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection rights of same-sex married couples. This means that same-sex couples cannot be denied the same federal benefits granted to heterosexual married couples.

In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court addressed the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8. Chief Justice Roberts drafted the opinion of the court in another 5 to 4 decision. California's Proposition 8 was adopted by the state's voters in an election that occurred in November of 2008, in which 52.3% of California voters approved the ballot measure, which made same-sex marriage illegal in California. This change presented another major change in California family law.

On June 26, 2013, the Court held that sponsors of Proposition did not have a standing, or the legal right to appeal district court's order invalidating the ban. Thus, the Court dismissed the case on the grounds of inadequate standing and the case was remanded back to the lower court with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Since the lower court had already declared Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, the decision is has cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in the State of California.

As of today, June 28, 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay in the matter, allowing same-sex marriages to immediately resume in California. California is now the thirteenth, and largest, state to legalize same-sex marriages.

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