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What the Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Decision Means for IL Couples

Posted on in Family Law

gay marriage, Illinois Family Law LawyerThe Supreme Court recently issued a landmark case in marriage equality. Obergefell v. Hodges granted same-sex couples the right to marry across the country, and it forced states to recognize the same-sex marriages of couples who were married in other states. LGBT couples living in Illinois may think this more of a symbolic victory for them because Illinois already recognized the right to same-sex marriage. However, the way that the Court went about recognizing the equal right to marriage has important practical implications for Illinois couples as well.

Obergefell v. Hodges

The key factor to understand about Obergefell is that there are two ways that the Court could have chosen to recognize a right to same-sex marriage.

First, the Court could have looked to the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment. The Due Process clause protects rights that the Court has determined are “fundamental.” Although the Court had already recognized a right to marriage, it was unclear whether it would decide that the right extended to same-sex couples or whether “same-sex marriage” was a separate, non-fundamental right.

Second, the Court could have used the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. This clause has a lot of complex doctrine behind it, but the general theory of it is that laws cannot treat similarly-situated people differently without good reason. Importantly, how good that reason needs to be varies based on how the law divides people. For instance, it is almost impossible to find a good enough reason to uphold a law that treats people differently based on race.

Ultimately, the Court chose to provide a right to same-sex marriage through the Due Process clause, though it did give a nod to the equal protection idea as well. Hence, the Court decided to award the right because marriage is a fundamental right that every person should be able to have, rather than because the Court was concerned about the way the law singled out LGBT couples. While that may seem like a semantic distinction, it actually has important consequences.

How This Affects Illinois Couples

This decision affects Illinois couples in two ways. First, it makes it easier for same-sex couples to travel or move to another state. In the past, people's marriages might not have been recognized as valid in states that did not recognize same-sex marriage. This could lead to all sorts of problems. For instance, if a spouse ended up in a hospital in a state that did not recognize the marriage as valid, then that could impair visitation rights. Similarly, if a couple moved to a state that did not recognize their marriage and later wanted to get divorced, they often could not because the new state's divorce process would not apply and they could not divorce in the old state. Second, the fact that the decision was more about marriage as a fundamental right rather than equal protection of LGBT individuals means that the decision will have limited applicability to other potential areas where the law separates people by sexual orientation.

Speak with a Compassionate Illinois Family Law Attorney

Family law is a constantly changing field, and it can have important implications for people's private lives. If you have questions about how the new law may affect you, contact a skilled McHenry County family law attorney today.

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