Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why is New York City telling married couples they can marry again?

As the date of the first same-sex weddings in New York approaches, consider this. On the website for the Clerk's Office for New York City, there are questions and answers for same-sex couples. Scroll down and find the following: "Can my spouse and I get married in New York City if we already were married in another state or country?" The answer: Yes. The page goes on to say that New York recognizes same-sex marriages from elsewhere, and it says to talk to a lawyer about whether to marry again if you have questions about it. But it has just answered the basic question with a "yes," so who would have a question other than that?

Here's what's wrong with this answer. The couple is married. New York recognizes their marriage. Any state that would recognize a New York marriage would also recognize the coupe's marriage from Connecticut, or Massachusetts, or anywhere. Married couples don't marry again. They may renew vows, but this is not marrying again. The first marriage was a real marriage. To marry again suggests otherwise. It also confuses the heck out of WHEN this couple got married. If they divorce and don't mention both marriage dates, will they still be married because they didn't dissolve one of their unions? For government benefits, what date will count? For accumulation of property, what date will count?

New York LGBT family lawyers have been getting calls from clients since the moment the law was signed. They all say the same thing. You are married. Don't marry again. So why ask for all this trouble? I'm assuming that those who want to marry again are couples who live in New York who resent that they had to go elsewhere to marry and who want the validation of marrying at home. Maybe their friends and families could not attend the first wedding because of distance and they want to do it the way they always wished to.

I understand those feelings. But frankly it reminds me of another thing I hear from LGBT family lawyers: When a couple marries and they live in a state that does not recognize their marriage, sometimes one or both thinks they do not have to divorce. Why divorce, asks the married lesbian in Arizona, when Arizona already says I am not married? In other words, they act as though the marriage was not real. That, too, can have bad consequences. These circumstances are similar because in each instance someone who went somewhere to legally marry thinks it appropriate to act as though they are not legally married.

So my advice to married same-sex couples in New York: Don't. And my question for New York City remains. Why this advice? Is it to collect those marriage license fees? If so, balance your budget some other way and don't lead New York residents down a path that suggests their marriages are not real and that spells trouble later.

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