The majority of Americans now support the right of same-sex couples to marry, according to several Gallup polls conducted since 2010. However, less than half the states recognize same-sex marriage. Pennsylvania is among those states that define marriage as between a man and a woman. Pennsylvania does not even recognize same-sex unions, meaning same-sex couples must ensure their rights are protected through the medical power of attorneys, financial powers of attorney, and cohabitation agreements – many of which give rights automatically granted by the state to married couples. Several legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage are working their way through state courts. In addition to these state challenges, it is quite possible the U.S. Supreme Court will again weigh in on the issue soon. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, meaning that states cannot deny same-sex partners federal benefits. Same-sex divorce is just as important as the right to marry one aspect of same-sex marriage not frequently considered by the public is the right to divorce. Whether involved in a traditional or same-sex marriage, a significant number of couples will ultimately decide to split. Nearby states, such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, recognize same-sex marriage. Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage, in 2004. That means many couples who have been together for years may have moved out of those states and into Pennsylvania. If the marriage ultimately dissolves, however, Pennsylvania also does not recognize the right for same-sex couples to divorce, even if another state legally performed the marriage.
That is why one Pennsylvania lawmaker introduced legislation to recognize same-sex divorce. While it is not as far as same-sex marriage supporters would like to go, it would at least allow same-sex couples the right to move on with their lives after a split.
Divorce is a necessary financial and emotional process a couple must go through when ending a marriage. It allows for an equitable distribution of shared assets, may grant one partner alimony, and can decide child custody. In Pennsylvania there is no explicit law against a same-sex couple from jointly adopting a child, meaning a split could wreak havoc on a same-sex couple’s family.
It is not clear if the legislation proposed by Representative Mike Schlossberg will pass. Rep. Schlossberg has indicated that “I have a very difficult time imagining it does stand a chance in the near future.” Still, with court cases pending, it is possible that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage will be ruled unconstitutional, meaning same-sex couples will ultimately finally find equality in the state’s books.
Current help available
While the momentum behind marriage equality seems strong, there are legal actions a same-sex couple can take in the state to ensure certain rights. For example, a cohabitation agreement can divide assets according to a couple’s wishes in the event of a split. Same-sex couples seeking legal rights in their relationship should speak to an experienced family law attorney to discuss their options.