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Same Sex Relationships

            As of May 20th, 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.   06/14

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