American Foundation for Equal Rights

Los Angeles Times Op-Ed: Married But Unequal

By Douglas NeJaime

On Sunday, New York will begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, further complicating the tangled legal mess of same-sex marriage in America.

Why does this complicate things? Consider what happens when legally married couples from New York move to, say, California. They’ll see their marriages evaporate, based only on their sexual orientation.

Ultimately, this treatment will be exposed for what it is: unfair and unconstitutional. But until there is national recognition that same-sex couples are entitled to marry, under both state and federal law, the strangeness will continue.

Take the case of a same-sex couple that moves to California after getting married in New York. Here, the marriage will not be fully recognized, pursuant to Proposition 8, which in November 2008 amended the California Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. On the other hand, a same-sex couple that married in Massachusetts before November 2008 will be recognized as legally married under California law. Those married in another state after that date will be recognized in California as something akin to domestic partners, which entitles them to the rights and benefits of marriage under California law but not the label.

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Douglas NeJaime is an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School.