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Same-Sex Relationships

As of May 20, 2014, same-sex couples have the right to marry in Pennsylvania. Also as of that date, Pennsylvania recognizes marriages between same sex couples validly performed in other states that permit same-sex marriage.  At least 18 other states have, by legislation or court case, established same-sex marriage. In other states, these same-sex marriage rights have been put on hold during appeals.

The process for marriage between same-sex couples is exactly the same as that for heterosexual couples: the couple must first apply for a license at the Marriage License Bureau at the local courthouse. If all statutory requirements are met, a license will be issued permitting the couple to marry.  There is normally a three-day waiting period from the time the license is issued before the ceremony can be performed. This period can be waived only by a court. The license is valid for 30 days and must be returned to the Marriage Bureau after the ceremony.

A marriage between same-sex partners is no different from a traditional man/woman marriage – all rights and responsibilities are the same. For example, same-sex couples must file a divorce to terminate the marriage and all property rights including equitable distribution of marital property and alimony are available in the proceedings. Spouses may also have a duty to support the other spouse during a period of separation and may be responsible for the debts incurred by the spouse during the marriage.

 Married same-sex couples may own property by the entireties. This means that the property will pass automatically upon death to the surviving spouse, without inheritance tax consequences. Same-sex couples should review their financial and estate plans prior to marriage.

 Among the other rights, married same-sex couples enjoy:

  • Right to be named on employer health and pension benefits;
  • Social Security benefits;
  • Inheritance rights such as the right to a surviving spouse’s statutory share and right to elect against a Will;
  • Right to participate in health care decisions for the spouse;
  • Right to adopt the children of the spouse;
  • Right to identify spouse for immigration;
  • Income tax filing status.

Same-sex couples should be aware that the legal right to marry has not been sanctioned by certain religious denominations. 6/14

If you need to consult with an attorney regarding same-sex marriage and relationships, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.