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How Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage affect Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering two related cases that could change nationwide laws affecting legal relationships. Justices recently heard arguments over the abolition of the Defense of Marriage Act and states' rights to ban same-gender marriages.

Texas lawmakers outlawed gay marriage a decade ago. Voters have also backed the DOMA definition of marriage -- the legal union of one man and one woman. When gay marriage laws are nullified, gay divorce also becomes impossible. Same-sex couples cannot marry or divorce in Texas.

Marriage and divorce laws are determined by states. DOMA overlaps and conflicts with statutes in Washington, D.C., and nine states where gay marriage is legal and other states where civil unions exist.

Relocation is a legal headache for married gay couples. Some states that offer civil unions or do not support same-gender marriage still maintain divorce laws for gay couples. Gay couples whose marriages are welcome in one state are helpless to divorce in states that neither permit nor recognize their relationships.

The rate of divorce among same-gender couples is tiny compared to marital dissolutions among heterosexual couples. A William Institute study estimated the annual gay divorce rate at one percent, which translated to about 500 divorces among 50,000 same-sex marriages in 2011.

Recognition of same-sex marriages would not be automatic if justices strike down DOMA. Federal legal barriers would be lowered, but states could retain individual rights to decide whether family laws apply to gay couples. Nationwide laws that affect marriage and divorce could change while state laws might remain stagnant.

Divorce is not the only area of family law that gay marriage statutes touch.

Same-sex couples have difficulties with asset division, beneficiary and inheritance issues, child support and adoption conflicts, and tax concerns. Texas lawyers who advise gay couples can ease some of the stress that current federal and state laws impose by offering options that work within the current legal climate.

Source: google.com, "Divorce just as much a hurdle as marriage for US gays," Fabienne Faur, March 22, 2013

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