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Ask Lambda Legal: Don't Be a Marriage Collector

Date

Date: 
08/04/2011

Q. My partner and I got married in California in 2008 before Prop 8 passed—as New Yorkers we now want to marry in our home state. Is this a good idea?

A. As we celebrate marriage equality in New York, the new law has also caused some people to wonder how this law affects them and their families, especially those same-sex couples who have already been legally married elsewhere. We understand wanting marry again in your home state—the patchwork of marriage law for same-sex couples in the United States can be confusing for those who want to make sure their relationships are fully recognized.

The decision about whether or not to marry is a deeply personal one; the decision about whether or not to get married again to the same spouse in a different jurisdiction is a legal one.

Lambda Legal advises couples against obtaining more than one, or multiple marriage licenses. Getting legally married in more than one jurisdiction is unnecessary and can end up causing problems for you. First, by marrying again, you may open yourselves up to unnecessary arguments about the validity of your prior married status, affecting benefits determinations, among other things. Did you marry a second time because you doubted the veracity of the first? Such questions don't matter much during the good times, but when things get rocky or if you are challenged you may face questions that you never dreamed you'd have to unravel.

Second, in some jurisdictions, you have to present yourself as unmarried to get your license. To obtain a second marriage license would require representing yourselves untruthfully as single. Additionally, because every state's marriage law is different, having more than one marriage could complicate any legal proceedings you may enter in the future. Should you later divorce, it would make the dissolution of your marriage(s) and issues such as the division of property very difficult.

Adding one or more marriage dates could elongate the legal process and add to your legal bills.

Every state that legalizes marriage between same-sex couples is an incremental step toward federal marriage equality, and should be celebrated. Lambda Legal advises couples who want to celebrate, to do so wisely, and not have one too many. Don't be a marriage collector.

If you have questions about your relationship status and how to best protect you and your family please contact our Legal Help Desk.