How Will the Law Recognize Your Same-Sex Marriage? The NYCLU Explains


The New York Civil Liberties Union has created an excellent guide to what same-sex couples can expect legally after they’ve tied the knot. The Marriage Equality Act creates a certain level of legal equality for same-sex couples under New York State law, but in no way does it address the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Therefore, same-sex couples will need to be vigilant in ascertaining their legal rights after they marry. The NYCLU’s guide is a good place to start.

When can you get married?
This is one of the first questions the guide addresses and, like most things with gay marriage, it’s complicated. The law takes effects 30 days after Governor Cuomo signed it, which is July 24. However…

As the guide points out:

“State law requires couples to wait 24 hours after receiving a license before they can be married, unless they obtain a judicial waiver. So while July 24 may be the first day that same-sex couples can file marriage license applications, they must wait another day to get married. The State Department of Health, which provides directives to local clerks, has not yet indicated whether it will allow licenses to be obtained prior to July 24 so that couples can actually be married on that date. Notably, however, the New York City Clerk’s Office will not begin issuing licenses until July 24.”

Also, as:

“July 24 is a Sunday, it is unclear whether any clerks’ offices around the state will be open. The best way to find out is to call your clerk’s office directly.”

The guide has answers to all kinds of questions that were being debated in the Capitol up until mere hours before the legislature voted on them, including:

Can a church or member of the clergy refuse to marry me and my partner? (Yes.)

Can an employee in the clerk’s office refuse to give us a license or refuse to sign our license application because they object to marriages between same-sex couples? (No.)

Can a private business, such as a florist or photography studio, refuse to provide a service for my wedding because I am marrying a person of the same sex? (No.)

And so on. As for how a legal New York marriage is trumped by the federal Defense of Marriage Act:

As a result of DOMA Section 3, same-sex couples married in New York cannot file jointly on their federal tax returns, cannot sponsor same-sex spouses for immigration purposes and cannot receive federal benefits– including Social Security, federal pensions and veterans’ benefits–that other married couples enjoy…DOMA also penalizes married same-sex couples by taxing them on the value of the health insurance benefits they obtain through their spouse’s employer, unlike other married couples.