Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to recognize gay marriage when it began allowing same-sex couples to marry in 2004. Public attitudes toward gay marriage have since evolved, and a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court has settled any lingering legal questions raised by the issue. The June 26 decision gives gay couples in any U.S. state the constitutional right to marry.
The court recognized that marriage has traditionally been considered the union of a man and a woman, but it pointed out that the nature of the institution has changed over time. This has been a contentious issue for those with both progressive and traditional political views. While 36 states allow same-sex couples to marry, some conservative states have passed laws banning the practice. These laws have now been ruled unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court has ruled on gay marriage in the past. A 2013 ruling guaranteed same-sex couples the same federal benefits as other married spouses, but it did not rule on the constitutionality of gay marriage under the U.S. Constitution. While news of the decision was welcomed by President Obama and gay rights activists across the country, others were not so complimentary. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the dissent that the ruling threatened the future of American democracy.
Rights are often accompanied by responsibilities, and gay couples across the country who choose to marry will now be subject to laws concerning property division and spousal support. These rules already apply to same-sex couples in Massachusetts, and many local family law attorneys will likely have experience assisting same-sex couples. An attorney may encourage a same-sex partner concerned about future conflict to consider a prenuptial agreement that would cover these issues.
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