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How This Book Can Help

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How This Book Can Help
4  |  A Legal guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples
With the changing legal landscape for lesbian and gay couples, many
of us are finding it necessary to sit back and consider just what we are
doing in our relationships. Do we think of ourselves as married, as a
family unit? Or do we consider ourselves unmarried and more separate,
sharing our emotional lives but remaining legally independent in many
ways? Do we think of our fates as entirely intertwined, or do we believe
that each of us is autonomous and responsible for our own welfare? When
we entered into a relationship, did we intend to become responsible for
our partner’s debts, or to support our partner after a breakup? What
about parenting?
Many couples, especially in states where marriage or marriage-equivalent
registration is available, are now considering these questions. All our
intentions upon entering into a relationship are called into question by
these new legal structures. For some of us, entering into a legal relationship
by registering as domestic partners, entering a civil union, or even
marrying, may not be the best option from a practical standpoint, or may
not reflect how we see our intimate relationships at all.
For many of us, making a legal commit­ment is the ultimate expression
of our emo­tional commitment. This was demon­strated in 2004 in San
Francisco, where thousands of couples lined up for hours (in the rain) to
demonstrate their devotion to each other by entering into the state of legal
matrimony, and it’s been demonstrated thousands of times over by all
the couples who have legally married in the last eight years. However, it’s
important that we understand the consequences of tying the knot. (For a
much more in-depth discussion of these subjects, see Making It Legal: A
Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnerships, and Civil Unions, by
Frederick Hertz with Emily Doskow (Nolo).)
How This Book Can Help
Here at Nolo, we believe that everyone should know their legal rights and
be active participants in structuring their legal affairs. This is particularly
important for same-sex couples because of the current state of marriage
and family laws in this country. Married couples’ relationships are closely
regulated by each state’s family law rules, which give spouses certain
introduction  | Your LGBT Family companion |  5
rights, determine how property will be divided and custody issues worked
out if the couple splits up, and dictate who will be responsible for the
couples’ debts, among many other things. This isn’t so for same-sex
couples, however.
As of January 2012, lesbian and gay couples can legally marry in
six states and the District of Columbia and can register for marriageequivalent relationships in nine others—but the implications of samesex marriage have yet to be fully tested. In most other states, LGBT
relationships are governed by the rules of contract law—the same rules
that apply when you hire someone to repair your car or paint your home.
Because of the continuing lack of federal recognition, same-sex couples
suffer plenty of negative consequences: higher estate tax and property
tax bills, higher insurance payments, difficulties in making end-of-life
health care decisions for their partners, and significant obstacles in
adopting children. But we also have the freedom to create our own legal
relationships, without the limitations that state marriage laws impose.
And even in the states in which marriage or marriage-like relationships
are possible, it may work better for some couples to structure their
relationships outside of those legal rules.
That’s where this book comes in—it provides all of the information
and forms you need to make your own agreements about property,
family issues, and more. Making these decisions and using these written
agreements will help you think about the responsibilities you want to
accept—and the commitments you want to make—toward each other.
This book will show you how to create a marriage-like relationship—
even in the absence of legal marriage—if that’s what you want, and
will explain how that will affect your relationship on the most practical
level. It will also explain how to tailor your relation­ship to your specific
agreements, whether or not those agreements resemble marriage.
Transgender people often find themselves in particularly complex legal
situations. Often­times their birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and other
identification documents create confusion and uncertainty. Their legal
rights and duties with respect to their unmarried partners, however, are
the same as anyone else’s. Special issues involving transgender individuals
are discussed throughout the book where the issues are relevant.
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