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.