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The rights of same-sex partners

When family problems arise it is a difficult time for anyone involved. The trouble may not be resolved and a couple may end up parting ways either by a legal separation or by a divorce. Same-sex partners have additional difficulty when dealing with these same matters, particularly if the same-sex union is not recognized by the state in which the family resides. Knowing their rights may help the family come to an agreement that is in the best interests of the unit as a whole, while operating within the boundaries of state law.

Since domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages are not federally recognized unions, each state has to take a legal stance on the issues surrounding these unions. Domestic partnerships in New Jersey are at the forefront these days because of new legislation that was introduced on Dec. 10, asking voters to voice their opinion on whether they approve of same-sex marriage. The election on Nov. 6 had similar popular votes in three other states asking for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The people in those states voted against the amendments.

The obstacles in their home states have resulted in some couples choosing to marry in other states, like New York, where the unions are legal. New Jersey does allow citizens who are in a civil union to cover their partner on their health insurance, but the benefit is only required of employers in the public sector. As a result of New Jersey's recognition of the civil unions, couples have the right to file joint state tax returns, but must file separately on their federal forms because the unions are not federally recognized.

Federal recognition would eliminate a number of other obstacles same-sex couples face that other federally recognized unions do not face. These include issues concerning property rights, emergency medical care decisions, estate taxes and spousal health benefits. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases involving two domestic partnerships, but clarity is needed nation-wide. Protecting the rights of the family during the difficult process of separation or divorce by seeking advice from a knowledgeable legal source may help domestic partners avoid any undue stress in these unsure times.

Source: NJ.com, "Same-sex N.J. couples hope Supreme Court will remove legal troubles," Renée Kiriluk-Hill, Dec. 18, 2012

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