celebrations subside, gay and lesbian couples from
other states who marry starting this week in California face
Many will return
home to states which explicitly reject same-sex unions.
Major gay-rights groups are urging them not to rush into
lawsuits demanding that their marriages be recognized.
Lawyers warn that they may have difficulty divorcing
if things go awry.
''This is a very
serious undertaking,'' said Richard Williams, a Chicago
lawyer who has been helping local same-sex couples weigh
''It may not be
accepted here in Illinois, but it is legal, it is real,''
Williams said. ''If you go to California and get married,
there are potential problems and pitfalls that you
have to think about.''
Likely areas of
contention could include inheritance, medical
decision-making, health and pension benefits, and child
California will become the second state after
Massachusetts to allow same-sex marriages, but the first to
do so without any residency requirements. No one knows
how many out-of-state couples will head there to wed,
but for some it's an opportunity that's impossible to
we did not want to miss,'' said Inga Sarda-Sorensen of
New York City, who plans a wedding in Malibu in
mid-September with her partner of 10 years, Jennie
As New Yorkers,
they've already gained some rights as registered domestic
partners since 2004, but they view marriage as a big
would tell co-workers we're domestic partners, people would
say 'Oh, that's nice,' but they don't really get what that
means,'' Sarda-Sorensen said. ''When she told them she
was going to California to get married, it was
jubilation and hugs all around.''
heading west for weddings have a big advantage over most
other non-California same-sex couples. New York Gov. David
Paterson has stipulated that state law requires
recognition of legal marriages performed elsewhere,
including same-sex unions.
Most other states
have statutes or constitutional amendments specifying
that marriage is between a man and a woman, and denying
recognition to same-sex unions. The federal government
also doesn't recognize such unions.
their court victory in California could be offset by defeats
elsewhere, a coalition of nine national gay-rights groups
last week issued an appeal -- titled ''Make Change,
Not Lawsuits'' -- to gays and lesbians considering
want to should get married, call themselves married, and
ask -- sometimes demand -- that family, friends, neighbors,
businesses, employers and the community treat their
marriages with respect,'' the statement said.
''But one thing
couples shouldn't do is just sue the federal government
or, if they are from other states, go sue their home state
or their employer to recognize their marriage or open
up the health plan,'' it added. ''Bad rulings will
make it much more difficult for us to win marriage,
and will certainly make it take much longer.''
legal groups opposed to same-sex marriage questioned whether
that appeal would be heeded.
''We expect a
large scale of lawsuits in various states across the
country,'' said Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel with
the Alliance Defense Fund. ''Obviously these groups
want to go ahead in a cohesive strategy -- but I don't
think they'll be able to stop everybody.''
possible legal chaos, attorneys general from several states
asked California to postpone the start of same-sex marriage
until after Nov. 4 voting on a state ballot measure
that could ban such unions. The request was denied.
legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights,
said litigation by newly married same-sex couples ''should
be an absolute last resort'' -- reserved only for
cases where there is grievous injustice and a
realistic chance of prevailing in court.
Minter also noted
that same-sex couples marrying in California could find
themselves with no efficient way to dissolve the marriage if
it breaks down. States that don't recognize same-sex
marriages might refuse to grant a divorce, and
California -- while lacking a residency requirement
for marriage -- does have one for divorces.
senior counsel for the gay-rights group Lambda Legal, said
same-sex couples should be particularly cautious about
marrying if one partner is not a U.S. citizen
(deportation might result) or is in the military
(dismissal could result under the ''don't ask, don't tell''
couples, you've got to know what you're buying into,''
Buckel said. ''Understand what you're going to face in your
home state -- understand that your own federal
government requires discrimination against you by
Yet even in the
face of non-recognition, Buckel said couples should be
open about their marriage -- for example when filling out
forms to rent an apartment.
''You've got to
be honest about it,'' he said. ''That can be tough.''
Debbie Hunt, a
Houston lawyer with many gay clients, worries that
same-sex couples from Texas will marry in California, then
return home with false assumptions that they have
marital protections in a state that in fact has banned
''My job is to
educate, let our clients make the ultimate decision,''
Hunt said. ''But if they ask 'Should we do it?' my answer
is: 'If you don't have to, please don't.'''
helped dissuade Regina Cassanova and Jheri Dupart not to
venture to California, though the partners of more than 10
years had been thrilled by the historic court ruling
''Even though we
want the legal protection, maybe this isn't the right
time for us,'' said Cassanova, 27. ''Living in Texas, we
could lose rights if we married in another state.''
The couple hopes
Texas will change its policy, but they're prepared to
move elsewhere if necessary when they're ready to have
children, Cassanova said.
Texas, has a constitutional amendment that bars recognition
of same-sex unions, but that hasn't deterred Mike Silverman
and Dave Greenbaum from planning to marry Tuesday in
Partners for 12
years, the men said they had no intention of filing
lawsuits or seeking confrontations when they return home to
politicians or lawyers -- we're not going to do anything but
get back to our daily grind,'' Greenbaum said. ''We'll hope
our family, friends and community accept us just like
any other couple.''
Also planning a
California wedding -- date to be determined by
availability of discount airfare -- are Bonnie Aspen, 55,
and Willow Williams, 48, of Spokane, Wash. They've
been together 29 years, and registered last year as
domestic partners when Washington adopted that policy.
Even if the
marriage has no immediate practical effect, they yearn for
it, Aspen said.
''We don't expect
to come back and boom, Washington says you're
married,'' she said,
marriage license is one more step to help our state and the
rest of the country move forward. In another 20 years this
country will be very embarrassed by what it put some
of its people through.'' (David Crary, AP)