On 14 May 2013, Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a bill, which legally recognizes the marriage of two individuals of the same sex. Several years earlier, similar bills were introduced to congress, but gained little support. The current law, which will go into effect on the first of August 2013, is the outcome of a legislative process which began some six months earlier. In December of 2012, discussions around this topic surfaced as Representative Alice Hausmann and State Senator John Marty suggested the possibility of introducing a bill that would allow for same-sex marriage. On 28 February of this year, a bill was introduced in the state legislature titled Marriage between two persons provided for, and exemptions and protections based in religious associations provided for. In effect, the bill modifies the language of the current marriage laws, recognizing marriage as “a civil contract between two persons,” replacing the previous phrase “a civil contract between a man and a woman.” In other places in the law, provisions were removed which specified that marriage “may be contracted only between persons of the opposite sex.” On 9 May 2013, the bill passed the House by a vote of 75-59, and on 13 May 2013, it was approved by the Senate in a 37-30 vote. This bill comes less than a year after an amendment to the state Constitution was rejected, which would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
From a legal point of view, this change in law brings with it certain implications for same-sex couples, as well as employers. Marriage, as a legal institution, affords spouses certain protections and benefits. For example, if one spouse dies the other has certain inheritance rights, even in the absence of a will. If the marital relationship otherwise comes to an end, the law sets forth how property and other assets are to be divided between the two parties. In addition, there are tax incentives for married couples and social security benefits if one partner is injured or disabled. Further, there are certain employment benefits related to health insurance and retirement.
What is left to be determined is how these benefits will extend to a same-sex spouse in Minnesota. The new marriage law does, for example, give jurisdiction to family courts to hear cases involving same-sex couples. As such, divorce and child custody issues will now be determined in much the same way for same-sex couples as for heterosexual couples married in the state of Minnesota.
The challenge in the United States is that the federal law does not recognize same-sex marriage. Therefore, the numerous federal benefits, such as social security and the ability to file a joint federal income tax return, will not likely be available for same-sex couples in Minnesota.
In terms of employment benefits, the situation is slightly more complex and depends on whether state or federal laws apply. Generally, retirement benefits provided by employers, such as a 401(k) plan or a pension plan, are governed by federal law, and an employer would not be legally required to extend coverage or survivor benefits to the same-sex spouse of an employee. With health insurance plans, the situation is much the same, and an employer would not be legally required to make health coverage available to an employee’s same-sex spouse. It seems more likely, however, that insurance plans underwritten in Minnesota will be required by law to offer coverage to both spouses of a same-sex marriage.
Another challenge for same-sex couples married in the state is that Minnesota is one of only 12 states that have passed same-sex marriage laws. Therefore, if a same-sex couple moves out of state, or if they live in Minnesota and one or both spouses are employed in another state, the marriage may not be recognized in the other state.
If you are considering marriage to a same-sex partner, schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Minnesota family law attorneys to learn more.