On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the law of the land is that states must allow same-sex couple to marry and must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This is a watershed civil-rights ruling that closes the gap created in the Windsor decision in that same-sex married couples could immigrate a spouse under U.S. Immigration Law, but those marriages were not recognized in many states. These couples ironically were married under federal law but not in their states of residence depending on where they resided or if they crossed state lines.
The recent decision recognizes that societal norms have changed drastically and that the question is not an “us and them” issue, the Supreme Court recognized that most Americans have family, friends, neighbors and church associations with people involved in same-sex relationships. The decision brightly speaks of healthy family relationships with same-sex parents and now clarifies that the fundamental right to a family is without barriers.
This decision follows years of litigation in the courts not only in all U.S. States, but is similar to the Mexican Supreme Court decision which affected many of this writer’s clients who were also restricted by the patchwork of recognition and prohibitions in the states of that country. However, the Mexico decision merely held that prohibitions on same-sex marriages were discriminatory and further litigation is in the works to declare the legality of marriages.
Today, on July 2, 2015, this writer attended a continuing legal education for attorneys led by the lawyers who represented the Tennessee case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in Tanco v. Haslam. Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) President, Attorney Bill Harbison, Abbey Rubenfeld, and Regina Lambert reviewed the case and how it has affected residents in Tennessee.
The panel discussed the long path thorough the court system and the meticulous planning and strategy to get the case to the Supreme Court to rule on granting marriage licenses and recognizing marriages. The court held in a 5-4 opinion that marriage is a fundamental right under the law: period. Marriage safeguards children and families and all two-person unions are important. In the words of Justice Kennedy this case is “about equal dignity under the Constitution”.
In Tennessee, the Attorney General’s office and local county clerks were ready for the Supreme Court decision. On the same day as the announcement, the first same-sex couples were married in Nashville by 1 p.m. and marriages were performed across the state.
The remaining legal issues the panel discussed relate to prior marriages and the law prior to the decision. For example, “Do inheritance rights retroactively vest since June 26, 2015?” ; “Can a spouse bring a wrongful death case in the name of a spouse where the marriage occurred prior to the Supreme Court decision?” ; “Do couples have the right to title property in the entireties retroactively ” ; “What rights do spouses have in IRA accounts established prior to the decision ?”
Retroactivity referred to by these questions relates to whether previous rights or obligations are affected by the new law making same sex marriage legal in all states.
Tennessee courts are immediately experiencing same-sex divorce and adoptions following the Supreme Court case. The fact that Tennessee was involved in a case of such great magnitude is due to the hard work of these dedicated lawyers. This interesting discussion is available as a webinar to both licensed attorneys seeking CLE, as well as non-lawyers and may be accessed as a webinar for up to a year by registration online at the TBA CLE Portal.
Sean Lewis is a Nashville-based U.S. Immigration Attorney with local ties to Puerto Vallarta. He is the Chair of the TBA Immigration Law Section and handles many U.S. Consular cases including visa applications filed at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico City and Guadalajara. Sean is a contributor for a blog based in Puerto Vallarta regarding legal immigration issues. He may be reached at Sean@MusicCityVisa.com or by telephone within Mexico at 01 004-2258 or in the U.S. at 615.226.5235 (615 ABOGADO). www.MusicCityVisa.com