Marital Rights for Same-Sex Couples Stop at State Border

By KBJR News 1

July 17, 2013 Updated Jul 17, 2013 at 7:27 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - The legalization of same–sex marriage in Minnesota and the repeal of part of the Defense of Marriage Act has been a cause for celebration for some. But it has also caused a lot of questions for soon–to–marry same–sex couples, as not all states will recognize their Minnesota marriage.

When it comes to marital rights, things get blurry as soon as you cross state lines.

Barbie Evans and fiancee Rose Atkins, both of Duluth, are expecting their first child just weeks after they get married in Minnesota on August first. They're thankful that their home state has legalized same–sex marriage, just in time to welcome their baby as a married couple.

"It makes it seem like we're more recognized as a family," said Atkins.

But for same–sex couples in Minnesota and the 12 other U.S. states where same-sex marriage is legal, celebration comes with questions.

"Who knows what happens if we take a trip or we go on vacation," said Evans.

Matthew Benfield, of Benfield Law Office in Cloquet, practices family law and says that, as of now, the rights acquired when same–sex couples marry apply only in the states in which that marriage is considered legal.

"The rights, at this time, don't transfer from one state to another," said Benfield,"In states that have decided not to recognize it, or to prohibit it, nothing has changed."

Come August first, married same–sex couples in Minnesota will have marital rights at the state level. The repeal of part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) means they will also be able to receive federal rights as a married couple.

But because the DOMA leaves the decision up to the state, right across the border in Wisconsin, the marital rights of same–sex couples will not be legally recognized.

"It's a huge gray area," said Steven Snyder of Steven H. Snyder and Associates, a law firm in the Twin Cities, "Everybody is celebrating the passage of the same–sex marriage statute in Minnesota and the repeal of Article Three of the DOMA by the Supreme Court, but there is a great deal of work yet to be done if same–sex couples are really to have co–existing equal rights with all other people that are married."

Snyder practices family law and has worked on surrogacy issues with same–sex couples. One of his biggest concerns is that married same–sex couples who have children might not legally adopt, putting their parental rights in jeopardy should they travel out of state.

"Because the marriage is not enforceable in Wisconsin that won't give them [same-sex couples] rights in a hospital in Superior," said Snyder, "The woman who is the non–genetic, non–birth mother has no presumption to establish parentage."

Both Benfield and Snyder say the safest way for same–sex couples to establish parentage is to legally adopt.

"Adoption is the safest course of action to kind of guarantee that those rights are going to be recognized, not only here [in Minnesota] but elsewhere," said Benfield.

Both lawyers say that because the legalization of same–sex marriage is a recent issue, there are many legal standards that have yet to be set, including the legal process by which same–sex couples get divorced.

Applications for same–sex marriage in St. Louis County will be available starting July 26th.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.